CityBeat Blogs - Theater http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-37-16.html <![CDATA[Stage Door: Race and Urban Living on Local Stages]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Kinky Boots
Photo: Matthew Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
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<![CDATA[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[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[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[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[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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<![CDATA[Call Board: Theater News]]> Actors Sought: If you're an actor looking for an unusual afternoon this week, the Cincinnati Police S.W.A.T. team invites you to volunteer for a training event on Tuesday from noon to 3 p.m. at a location near downtown. Officer Tim Eppstein wrote this in his announcement: "Volunteers will play characters in S.W.A.T.-type situations that may include hostage situations, barricaded individuals and suicidal individuals. These trainings have been very effective for the S.W.A.T. negotiators, and the volunteer actors report that it is a positive experience, allowing them to grow as actors and have fun in an extreme role." Eppstein needs 5-6 volunteers; if you're interested, give him a call at 513-352-4566. ]

A Mega-Hit: Crossroads Church in Oakley (3500 Madison Rd.) has a major holiday hit on its hands, it appears. Its annual monumental production of Awaited, under way since Dec. 5, completely filled 29 performances in less than 24 hours when free tickets were made available in late November. That's a total audience of 100,000 seats, double the number that attended a year ago. Crossroads has presented Awaited since 2007. It's the familiar Bible story of Jesus's birth staged in a spectacular production described as "a Christmas rock concert meets the ballet meets Cirque du Soleil meets the Omnimax"; it uses a cast and crew of 265 volunteers. Performances continue through Dec. 23, and the event's website encourages those interested to look into standby seating and to check in periodically regarding the availability of returned tickets.

Celebrate on the West Side: There's a new event on Saturday at the historic Dunham Arts Center (1945 Dunham Way): A day full of festivities, The Price Hill Holiday Xtravaganza, begins at 11 a.m. with Santa's Frosty Follies, a 45-minute revue of favorite holiday characters and songs. (Tickets are $8.) Santa shows up after the show to review kids' lists and pose for picture. The day culminates with a 7 p.m. performance of It's All About Love, a 90-minute holiday variety show featuring tributes to the Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Whitney Houston and more. (Tickets for this one are $16; $14 for students and seniors.). Proceeds from the day will benefit restorations of the arts center, which is the home for Sunset Players, a community theater company. (The building was part of a one-time tuberculosis hospital dating back to 1879.) You can order tickets online or by calling 513-588-4988.

The Feds Support Our Local Arts Scene: The National Endowment for the Arts made seven grants to Cincinnati area arts organizations, pumping $165,000 into our local arts economy for 2015. One of these will support the Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Tracy Scott Wilson's Buzzer, about a young lawyer who moves back to a rapidly redeveloping neighborhood where he grew up. The play (March 21-April 19 on the Shelterhouse Stage) will encourage dialogue about race, gentrification and urban renewal. Another grant will support Cincinnati Opera's world premiere of Morning Star (June 30-July 9 at the School for Creative and Performing Arts) by composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist William Hoffman, a work about the immigrant experience a century ago in New York City. Other local grant recipients include ArtWorks, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Symphony, Kennedy Heights Art Center and Taft Museum of Art.

At the Movies: In less than two weeks you'll be able to see the new film of Stephen Sondheim's great musical Into the Woods featuring Meryl Streep, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp. Directed by Rob Marshall (he won the 2002 Academy Award for his film of the musical Chicago), it opens on Christmas Day. Here's the trailer: http://youtu.be/Rl1CWNFClqg


CityBeat's Rick Pender posts theater notices on CALL BOARD every Monday morning.
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: A Weekend of Holiday Theater]]> This weekend affords you numerous chances to see a holiday show. (Quite a few shows will still be onstage in another week, but you might be too busy shopping or baking cookies ...)

A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse has been drawing crowds for 24 seasons, and it's worth seeing (CityBeat review here). Lots of people do it as a family outing. (Tickets: 513-421-3888.) If kids are younger, you might consider Sleeping Beauty at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (CityBeat review here). This is the 18th year that ETC has offered a musical fairy tale created by two local artists, playwright Joe McDonough and composer David Kisor. (Tickets: 513-421-3555). Both shows are lots of fun (Christmas Carol does have some ghosts, of course, but they are portrayed with humor and wit), quickly paced and dazzlingly produced with costumes and sets that make watching an enjoyable outing.

A new holiday show to the area is Soldier's Christmas, presented at Northern Kentucky University by New Edgecliff Theatre and the Actors & Playwrights Collaborative. This weekend marks the premiere of local playwright Phil Paradis's show about a remarkable event that happened on Christmas Eve 1914 when battle-weary British and German soldiers came out of their World War I trenches, left their weapons behind and celebrated the holiday together. The "Christmas Truce" was also the subject of Cincinnati Opera's Silent Night, presented last July. (Tickets: 888-428-7311).

If you simply want to have a good time, I gave a Critic's Pick to the Covedale Center's production of Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings (CityBeat review here). The show is a sequel to the amusing musical about a quartet of Doo-Wop singers who return from heaven to do the big concert they missed out on in life (they died when their car was broadsided by a busload of girls on their way to see the Beatles' American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show). This time they're back to do a Christmas concert. It's a lot of silliness, of course, but the four guys — all musical theater majors at UC's College-Conservatory of Music — are talented singers, dancers and actors, so they're a blast to watch. (Tickets: 513-241-6550).

More high-jinks are available thanks to OTR Improv at the courtyard at Arnold's Bar & Grill for The Naughty Show (starting Sunday evening, presented by Know Theatre; tickets: 513-300-5669), as well as Falcon Theater's production in Newport of The Eight Reindeer Monologues (it finishes up this weekend; 513-479-6783).

Finally, if you're tired of holiday stuff (and who isn't when it gets cranked up not long after Halloween?) there are three choices for you: Cincinnati Shakespeare's very funny The Comedy of Errors (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-
381-2273); Know Theatre's mysterious and magical The Bureau of Missing Persons (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-300-5669); and Cincinnati Playhouse's staging of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical (CityBeat review here; 513-421-3888). The latter has been selling lots of tickets, causing the Playhouse to extend the show until Jan. 11.
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]]> Actors Sought. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati hosts its third annual Meals for Monologues on Monday and Tuesday between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 1127 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine. It's an open casting call to Equity and non-union actors for theater, film, TV and/or commercial projects cast by the theater's artistic director D. Lynn Meyers. Interested performers should bring two non-perishable food (pasta, canned goods, etc.) or toiletry items (soap, toothpaste) to the theater — to be donated to the Freestore/Foodbank as well as a current headshot and résumé and a short prepared monologue, song or two monologues. (No accompanist, so songs need to be performed a capellla.) Time slots are five minutes maximum and are available by appointment only. The deadline was last Friday, but a quick email to Ben Raanan (braanan@ensemblecincinnati.org) will let you know if any slots are still available. Meyers is a member of the Casting Society of America, and she has tons of projects and connections beyond shows at ETC; she recently did a lot of casting during two locally shot films, Carol and Miles Ahead.

Seasonal Fundraiser for New Edgecliff. The classic holiday story, Miracle on 34th Street — yes, the one with Kris Kringle and Natalie Wood as a child actor — will be brought to life as a radio production on Sunday evening at the Northside Tavern (4163 Hamilton Ave.) as an old-time radio drama. Produced by New Edgecliff Theatre with sound effects by WMKV's Mike Martini, it's a benefit to the theater group. Admission is $35, and it includes a dessert buffet at intermission provided by Cincinnati State's Midwest Culinary Institute. Tickets: 888-428-7311 (or at the door).

Rosie Keeps Singing. The Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical seems to be a big hit. The show, onstage in the Shelterhouse, opened on Nov. 20, and on its first night artistic director Blake Robison announced that sales were brisk enough to make it possible to extend the production a week beyond its intended closing date (Dec. 28) to Jan. 4. Demand for tickets has continued, so the Playhouse has extended the show another week, now closing on Jan. 11. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Welcome to Dystopia. If you've read Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale, you know it's a creepy vision of the not-too-distant future in which the United States has become a theocracy called the Republic of Gilead. An oppressive regime forces women to bear children for population growth, but Offred resists the demands made of her. Cincinnati Shakespeare gave Joe Stollenwerk's adaptation of the show a workshop in 2009 and a short-run production in 2011 featuring veteran Cincy Shakes actress Corinne Mohlenhoff as Offred. Next month Know Theatre fills in a TBA slot in its season with the show's first full-fledged production (Jan. 23-Feb. 21). Cincy Shakes' Brian Phillips will stage the one-woman piece with Mohlenhoff. They are married, so this is an unusual opportunity for them to work together on a new work rather than the classics that Cincy Shakes usually stages. Tickets ($20) are now available: 513-300-5669.


CityBeat's Rick Pender posts theater notices on CALL BOARD every Monday morning.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: A Ho-Ho-Whole Lotta ​Holiday Shows]]> If you want to go to the theater this weekend, you have plenty of choices, so long as you have the spirit of the season. Let's start with the familiar: Cincinnati Playhouse launched its 24th year of A Christmas Carol last week, and it's always a pleasure to see, featuring Bruce Cromer as Scrooge. But there are many more fine acting performances, including Ryan Wesley Gilreath as Bob Cratchit and Douglas Rees as the ebullient Mr. Fezziwig. Played out on a wingding of a set that spins and glitters and makes it possible to tell the story swiftly, Dickens' classic tale is a wonderful holiday tradition. Through Dec. 28. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888

Another tradition continues at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, where Sleeping Beauty is being revived for the fourth time. For 18 seasons, ETC has presented original shows by two local creators, playwright Joseph McDonough and composer David Kisor. It's a family-friendly piece that's conceived to entertain kids and adults with its innocent charm and a message that one person can truly make a difference. Many of ETC's regular actors return annually to do these shows, especially Deb G. Girdler (as the evil Wisteria) and Michael G. Bath (as her nefarious henchman). Intern Deirdre Manning is the sweet princess who sleeps for 100 years, and Terrance J. Ganser is both the prince who fulfills her curse and the one who breaks her free a century later. Especially enjoyable as a trio of mischievous fairies are Sara Mackie, Denise Devlin and Brooke Steele as Marigold, Lilac and Daisy. (They will be familiar to ETC audiences from several productions of the "Marvelous Wonderettes.") Through Jan. 4. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555

Lots of good holiday choices are up and running elsewhere: Forever Plaid – Plaid Tidings at the Covedale Center on the West Side; The Comedy of Errors at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company downtown; The Eight Reindeer Monologues at Falcon Theatre in Newport; and the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati's production of The Snow Queen at the Taft Theatre downtown.

If you prefer to avoid elves, nutcrackers and bah-humbugs, you should try Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical (CityBeat review here) at the Playhouse or The Bureau of Missing Persons, a the magical, mysterious production at Know Theatre (CityBeat review here).

Ho, ho, ho, indeed. That's enough theater to make anyone jolly.

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: Clooney, Christmas Carol and Comedy]]> Earlier this week I took my mom to see Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical at the Cincinnati Playhouse (CityBeat review here). It was just as good the second time around. Mom, who loved Clooney as a performer in her heyday, had this to say: "It was like seeing her perform live!" I agree: Susan Haefner offers a wonderful interpretation of a Cincinnati icon; and it's great fun to watch Michael Marotta (the only other actor onstage) play her psychiatrist and a dozen or so other characters from Rosie's life. It's a great story of a woman who overcame some daunting demons and made a second career when she had been largely forgotten. Through Jan. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

Even though everyone's Christmas decorations have been up for a while, the holiday season doesn't really begin for me until the Cincinnati Playhouse opens its production of A Christmas Carol. Well, there's no more waiting for that one: For the 24th consecutive year, the Mt. Adams theater kicks things off tonight with a glittering production of Charles Dickens' story of the re-education of Ebenezer Scrooge by several ghosts and the loving family of Bob Cratchit. This show is worth seeing simply for Bruce Cromer's winning performance in the pivotal role, but there's so much more — it's a scenically beautiful production, and the ensemble totally enters into the spirit of the season and brings the audience right along, too. Through Dec. 28. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors is not exactly a holiday show, but it's a lot of fun (CityBeat review here), what with two sets of twins intersecting without realizing the confusion they're causing. Of course, it all sorts out eventually with a happy ending and multiple weddings. Set in a carnival town and costumed as if it were America in the 1930s, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production induces laughter from start to finish. It would be a happy weekend outing for anyone, young or old. Through Dec. 13. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273.

Know Theatre's production of The Bureau of Missing Persons is an evocative and entertaining piece of alternative theater (CityBeat review here). The story of a woman's quest from her New York City apartment to a cave in Moscow in search of someone missing is described in the show's publicity as "a poignant tale of loss and redemption — part mystery, part love story." It's also the directorial debut for Tamara Winters, who recently became Know's associate artistic director. There's a preview tonight and the official opening is Saturday evening; it will be onstage through Dec. 20. Tickets ($20 in advance; $10 at the door 10 minutes prior to curtain, if available … cash only): 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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