CityBeat Blogs - Theater http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-37-16.html <![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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<![CDATA[Stage Door: A Girl Singer and Two Pairs of Twins]]> Many Cincinnati stages are momentarily paused, readying shows for the holidays. Last night the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park opened its production of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical. Susan Haefner does a remarkable job of channeling the "girl singer" from Maysville, Ky., who grew up in Greater Cincinnati. We learn how she became a star, rose to fame, almost lost it to pills and dissolute behavior, then battled back for a "flip side" to her singing career. All the other characters in her story — male and female, young and old, famous and unknown — are performed by Michael Marotta, who principally plays her counselor but is amusingly convincing as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Merv Griffin and many more. It's a thoroughly entertaining two hours on the Playhouse's Shelterhouse stage, and it's already appealing to audiences apparently, since the show's run has been extended from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company kicks off its next production of the 2014-2015 season tonight with The Comedy of Errors. The emphasis in this show, one of Shakespeare's earliest works, is definitely on the comedy, what with two pairs of twins whose adventures are hysterically compounded by mistaken identities when they end up in the same town on the same day. For this staging, it's set in a seaside resort in America of the 1930s in the midst of a classic carnival, adding to the story's hilarity. This one will only be onstage until Dec. 13, so this weekend is the perfect time to catch a performance, before holiday shows take center stage elsewhere. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273

One last treat I'll mention, which happens to be operatic rather than theatrical: It's Great Scott, a new work that Cincinnati Opera is nurturing in partnership with UC's College-Conservatory of Music. The production's creators have been in town all this week honing this brand new opera, the story of a struggling opera company and the hometown football team. They come into conflict when the team is to play in the Super Bowl on the same day the company has planned to premiere a long lost opera. To heighten the drama, the team's owner is married to the opera company's founder. The composer is Jake Heggie, who wrote the music for Dead Man Walking, a work produced by Cincinnati Opera at Music Hall in 2002, and Great Scott's script is by prize-winning playwright Terrence McNally. The week's work will culminate in a public reading on Tuesday evening. It's free, but you are asked to make a reservation by calling 513-241-2742 to see it at Memorial Hall (1225 Elm Street, next door to Music Hall; it's easy to park your car in the nearby Washington Park Garage).


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: Broadway Here, Broadway There — It's Everywhere]]> If you're looking for good theater this weekend you have two great choices at downtown Cincinnati's Aronoff Center. It's your pick: Recent Broadway hit Once, in a touring production, or a past award-winner, Young Frankenstein, staged by one of Cincinnati's best community theaters.

The musical Once began life as an Academy Award-winning film in 2007; the song "Falling Slowly" won an Oscar. The film became an off-Broadway production as a musical in 2011 then a Broadway contender in 2012, where it won eight Tony Awards, including best musical. Since 2013 it's been a hit in London (the film is about musicians in Dublin, and the stage adaptation is set in an Irish pub) and on a national tour in the U.S. a year ago that's been much praised. It's that tour presently onstage at the Aronoff Center's big hall. It's a very contemporary love story that succeeds in part because it's unpredictable: Boy Meets Girl (yeah, that's a cliché) but despite their chemistry and potential for romance, it doesn't turn out as you might expect. Along the way, a great cast of actor/musicians play instruments onstage and sing their hearts out as the story unfolds. And it's fun: Arrive early enough and you can queue up to go onstage and order a pint from the bar there and mingle with some of the cast. If there's such a thing as a casual musical for contemporary music lovers, this is it. Through Nov. 23. Tickets ($33-$80): 513-621-2787.

Don't think that you'll see something less than professional if you choose to head to the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater to see Young Frankenstein, presented by Cincinnati Music Theatre through Sunday. This company of local theater junkies knows how to make big musicals work, and this jokey show by Mel Brooks (based on his equally jokey classic comedy from 1974) is a great vehicle for a talented cast and crew. There are great sets (designed by Rick Kramer) and visual effects (by Jeff Surber), and the talented performers milk every laugh line to the nth degree. Charlie Harper is lots of fun as the latter-day scientist Frankenstein, Alison Evans is his fetching lab assistant Inga and Kate Mock Elliott has great moments as his twitchy fiancee Elizabeth. Chuck Ingram's portrait of the Monster is spot on, and his delivery of the show's big number, "Puttin' on the Ritz," will stick that tune in your head for days in ways that Irving Berlin never imagined. Tickets ($20-$24): 513-621-2787.

Broadway star Faith Prince is making a local appearance at Memorial Hall for an 8 p.m. concert tonight. It's part of a series of "Libations & Lite Bites," this one titled "Broadway & Bordeaux." The evening begins at 6:30 with hors d'oeuvres from local restaurants, wine and cocktails and concludes with dessert and more. Tickets ($47-$57): cincinnatimemorialhall.com.

If you've got Broadway on the brain and you're on Cincinnati's West Side, you should definitely check out the Covedale Center's production of Stephen Sondheim's fairytale musical Into the Woods, finishing up its run on Sunday. It's an entertaining classic (in December it will be on movie screens everywhere in a new film version featuring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp), and the Covedale has a great cast to put it across. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

You still have a chance to catch one of our great local actresses, Dale Hodges, in Driving Miss Daisy at Covington's Carnegie through Sunday. She's playing haughty, elderly Daisy Wertham, unwillingly partnered with Hoke, an African-American chauffeur (Reggie Williams) hired by her solicitous son Boolie (Randy Lee Bailey). It's a solid ensemble and a very entertaining production. Tickets ($18-$25): 859-957-1940.

And if you're looking for something that's brand new and edgy, check out All New People by contemporary writer Zach Braff. It's onstage at Clifton Performance Theatre, staged by Untethered Theatre through Nov. 30. It starts with a suicide attempt on Charlie's birthday and spirals from there. I'm going to see it this weekend. Maybe I'll see you there. Tickets ($20): 513-939-0599.

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: What You Can Learn at the Theater]]> Most of us go to the theater to be entertained. But we are often subtly educated and sometimes changed by the stories we witness. Take Driving Miss Daisy, for instance, Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play from 1987, currently onstage at the Carnegie in Covington. It has just three characters, all from different points on the personality compass. There's the feisty Daisy Werthan, an elderly, wealthy Jewish woman in Atlanta, fiercely independent but actually in need of assistance for daily life; her rather patronizing son, Boolie, a businessman trying to ensure her safety; and Hoke Coburn, the African-American chauffeur who Boolie hires to keep his mother from risking life and limb by driving herself. Things don't go well initially, but over the course of a quarter-century Miss Daisy and Hoke become best friends, and we learn how people can connect across vast divides. Featuring three very capable local stage veterans — the brilliant Dale Hodges as Daisy, Reggie Willis as Hoke and Randy Lee Baily as Boolie — this swift play (about 90 minutes) is a story about understanding and caring for someone whose life experience is vastly different. It's done with a lot of gentle humor and insightful moments. Staged by Mark Lutwak, whose day job is at the Cincinnati Playhouse, this very satisfying production is a great choice for theater this weekend. Through Nov. 16. Tickets ($18-$25): 859-957-1940

At the Cincinnati Playhouse, the world premiere of Safe House (CityBeat review here) connects because it's a story about family dynamics that aren't all that unusual — a pair of brothers with opposing perspectives who are on a collision course — but it's made interesting because it's set in Northern Kentucky in 1843, and the characters are "free people of color" — not slaves but not exactly free. Addison is a hardworking, itinerant cobbler, dreaming of opening his own shop, while his younger brother Frank is impetuous and chafing at restrictions imposed on them despite their freedom. They're caught up in the chaos of helping others escape bondage via the Underground Railroad. Playwright Keith Josef Adkins based his new play on his own family's history, and this meticulously crafted production will keep you guessing about the outcome and leave you with a sense of how some things evolve and some never change. Through Nov. 15. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.

Musicals are often at the far end of the lightweight entertainment spectrum, but if composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim's name is attached, you can be sure there will be twists on stories and music that goes well beyond toe-tapping numbers. That's certainly the case with Into the Woods (CityBeat review here), currently onstage at the Covedale through Nov. 16. It's a mash-up of familiar fairy tales — Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and more — that get entangled but seem to wrap up with happy endings by intermission. Then Act II comes along, and reality sets in. It's a show that's ultimately about understanding, caring and building community. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

Other productions worth checking out this weekend include Conor McPherson's adaptation of the psychological thriller The Birds (CityBeat review here) at Cincinnati Shakespeare (through Saturday; tickets, $22-$36: 513-381-2273); a creative stage adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick (CityBeat review here) at Know Theatre (through Saturday; tickets: $20, 513-300-5669); Stephen Karam's comedy Speech and Debate about a trio of misfit teens (CCM Drama on the UC campus, through Saturday; free, but reservations required: 513-556-4183); and Zach Braff's All New People about a disrupted suicide (Untethered Theater at Clifton Performance Theatre through Nov. 30; $25: 513-939-0599). And Cincinnati Music Theatre, a community group that is both ambitioius and successful with musicals, takes on the silly but entertaining Young Frankenstein at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theatre (through Nov. 15; tickets, $20-$24; 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: No Tricks, All Treats – Theater Choices for Halloween Weekend]]> Don't be scared. Just because it's Halloween, you don't have to miss out on good theater. In fact, there are some great deals available. For instance, this weekend is your last chance to see Ensemble Theatre's production of An Iliad (CityBeat review here), a one-man retelling of Homer's epic tale of the Trojan War. (The final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m.) Bruce Cromer has been turning in one of the best acting performances seen locally in years as "The Poet" who narrates the story of the tragic conflict — as well as about a dozen of the story's central characters. Several of the weekend's performances are sold out, but seats do remain tonight at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and if you use the coupon code SPOOKY to order tickets for either one, you'll get them for $25 each (they're usually $44). Box office: 513-421-3555.

This is also the final weekend for Falcon Theater's staging of The Woman in Black in Newport's tiny Monmouth Theater (which the group recently purchased, so it now has a permanent home, renamed "Falcon Theater"). The final performance on Saturday is sold out, but if you attend the classic ghost story tonight at 8 p.m. in costume, you'll get a $2 discount on your ticket (normally $19; $17 for students and seniors): 513-479-6783.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of The Birds (CityBeat review here) is also intended to give you the creeps, so it's another good choice for Halloween weekend. If that title sounds familiar, it's because Alfred Hitchcock adapted Daphne Du Maurier's short story into a classic thriller back in 1963. Cincy Shakes is presenting a more recent stage adaptation, this one by Irish playwright Conor McPherson (who has his own reputation as a storyteller who knows how to scare an audience, with past hits like The Weir and The Seafarer). It's an evening of psychological twists and turns with a cast featuring four of the company's best actors. This one will be around for another week, but if you're celebrating Halloween, you'll have fun with this one. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273, x1.

Also onstage through Nov. 8 is Know Theatre's production of Moby Dick (CityBeat review here.) It's not exactly a ghost story, but the obsessive Captain Ahab is certainly haunted by the specter of the great white whale, and Know's retelling of Herman Melville's great American novel is inventive and engaging. Tickets ($18): 513-300-5669.

Other good choices onstage are Covedale Center's Into the Woods (CityBeat review here) and the Cincinnati Playhouse's Safe House (CityBeat review here.) The former (tickets, $21-$24: 513-241-6550) is Stephen Sondheim's classic musical that's a mash-up of fairytales; the Playhouse show is a world premiere of a play by native Cincinnatian Keith Josef Adkins about people like his ancestors, free people of color in 19th-century Kentucky (tickets, $30-$75: 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: Safe House and Spooky Performances]]> Last night I was at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for the opening of Keith Josef Adkins' new play, Safe House, the 71st world premiere staged by our Tony Award-winning regional theater. (CityBeat feature story here.)

It's a fascinating piece that's about the little-known circumstances of "free people of color" in 19th-century America — not slaves but not exactly free. They're put into complex and stressful situations, personified here by a pair of very different brothers: Addison is a hardworking, aspiring entrepreneur, dreaming of become a cobbler with his own store, while younger brother Frank is impetuous and chafing at the restrictions imposed on them. The heat gets turned up when runaway slaves through their Northern Kentucky county need shelter and perhaps passage to Liberia, something their Aunt Dorcas has quietly supported. The story is based on Adkins' family history in this region, and it comes to life in this provocative drama. Through Nov. 15. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.

UC's College-Conservatory of Music only rarely gives more than one weekend to musical theater productions. This fall's privileged show is the very commercial Legally Blonde (a hit movie with Reese Witherspoon from 2001 that became a Broadway property in 2007). It's a genuinely entertaining show that actually has a meaningful message about living up to potential and not judging people by their exteriors. It also has a ton of dancing, so it's great news that this production is both being staged by veteran CCM choreographer Diane, who I profiled in my Curtain Call column this week. The production is happening at UC's Patricia Corbett Theater through Nov. 2. Tickets ($31-$35): 513-556-4183.

It's fairytale time at the Covedale Center with a production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. But proceed with caution: The first act takes more or less traditional stories of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and more, and mixes them into one happy stew. But in Act II, well, things aren't so "happily every after" when reality sets in. Big cast, great tunes, lots of humor — but some thoughtfulness, too. Through Nov. 16. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

The chance to see Bruce Cromer's one-man performance in An Iliad at Ensemble Theatre is an absolute must for anyone who's serious about theater. (CityBeat review here.) It's quite astonishing that one man can do so much and hold an audience's attention for 100 minutes in this retelling of the savagery of the Trojan War. It's all the more powerful because it's a condemnation of war across the ages. Don't miss this one. Through Nov. 2, and no chance that it will be extended, so call now for your tickets. Here's a tip, thanks to friendly relations with Know Theatre, just around the corner from ETC: Use the coupon code MOBY20 to get 20 percent off the price of two tickets for any remaining performances. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555.

With Halloween just a week away, several theaters are offering shows that will make your heart pound. There's creepy ghost in Falcon Theatre's production of The Woman in Black ($17-$19, 513-479-6783), and the characters in Conor McPherson's The Birds are under attack in ways that don't bode to well for human interaction ($22-$36, 513-381-2273). (CityBeat review here.) And while it's not exactly a Halloween story, Moby Dick at Know Theatre has some scary oddballs and a gargantuan villain out to murder everyone, so that qualifies, too. (CityBeat review here.) It's onstage through Nov. 8 ($18; 513-300-5669).

This weekend is last call for I loved, I lost, I Made Spaghetti at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (CityBeat review here.) Actress Antoinette LaVecchia spins some great stories about writer Giulia Melucci's bad taste in men, all the while making an aromatic Italian dinner — antipasti, wine, spaghetti Bolognese (homemade pasta and fresh sauce) — for a few lucky audience members. This is a totally charming show, great for weekend entertainment. Final performance is Sunday. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-2418-3888.

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: An Iliad, Varekai, and Other Items of Note]]> On Wednesday evening I attended one of the most remarkable solo performances I've ever seen: Bruce Cromer starring in An Iliad at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati.  Based on Homer's epic poem about the Trojan War, the poetic but dynamic script calls on one actor to play a dozen or so characters. Cromer does everyone of them (sometimes interacting with one another) with both imagination and detail. But mostly he's "The Poet," trapped by his role to tell this story — and the story of war in general — for nearly three millennia. He lets us see the attraction of glory and the devastation of senseless combat often for trivial reasons (the stealing of one man's wife by another lit the fuse on the Siege of Troy). The play is a condemnation of war and an acknowledgement of its inevitability. But it's also a celebration of theater, and Cromer is an absolute marvel to watch: After 100 minutes (no intermission) he's dripping with sweat from the effort and bowing to a genuine standing ovation. This is a production that no theater fan should miss. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555

There's a Cirque du Soleil show, Varekai, at the Bank of Kentucky Center at Northern Kentucky University. Like most, it's light on content and high on entertainment: A winged man falls from the rafters into a magical world where he recovers, witnessing the delights of strange creatures — who also happen to be marvelous performers: tumblers, aerial artists, jugglers and acrobats. As always, there's a pair of clowns who have fun with a few audience members. I didn't find Varekai (it's a Gypsy word that means "wherever") quite as breathtaking as some of the Cirque shows I've witnessed, but that's a relative remark, not a judgment on this production. The "Russian Swings" just before the finale feature acrobats hurled high into the air by massive swings, landing in the arms of others or on canvas sails. (Don't try this at home.) Varekai is a great escape and totally family friendly. Final performance is Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets ($28-$145): 800-745-3000

For a quick taste of Know Theatre's Moby Dick, check out this trailer: http://youtu.be/QMbqos66s0s. There's singing of sea shanties, hoisting of sails and a tremendous battle with the Great White Whale. I'm hoping that this ambitious production gets its sea legs soon: It felt a bit wobbly during the opening week. But Herman Melville's classic American novel has life breathed into it by a cast of eight hardworking actors. Onstage through Nov. 8. Tickets ($18, but performances on Wednesdays are free): 513-300-3669

Other items of note: On Monday evening, Know Theatre hosts the quarterly presentation of TRUEtheatre, real stories told by everyday people; this time around it's True Hair. … The following night at KNow, Cincinnati Fringe favorite Kevin Thornton is back in town to present another of his one-man shows of music and comedy, this one is called Talky Concert Thingy. He's a load of unpredictable talent, always watchable. … Falcon Theatre (they perform at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport) this weekend opens a production of the classic thriller, The Woman in Black. It's a good scare for the Halloween season. Tickets: 513-479-6783 … Children's Theatre of Cincinnati is offering public performances of Disney's Beauty and the Beast JR. at the Taft this weekend (and Saturday, Oct. 25). Tickets ($7-$25): 800-745-3000
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: A Whale, Two Brothers and a Beast]]> Know Theatre sets sail this weekend with tonight's opening of Moby Dick. It's Herman Melville's great American novel stripped down to its bare essentials of men at sea doing battle with a creature that maimed their obsessive captain. It's Know's first main stage show staged by new artistic director Andrew Hungerford, who's teamed with co-director Michael Burnham, retired from CCM but no doubt as inventive as ever in bringing unusual material to audiences. Featuring the haunting music of sea shanties and a stage full of theatricality, it being performed through Nov. 8. Tickets ($20 in advance): 513-300-5669. And here's a tip: Wednesday evening performances are free as part of Know's "Welcome Experiment," intended to bring new audiences to its Over-the-Rhine facility.

UC's College-Conservatory of Music is presenting Willy Russell's powerful British musical Blood Brothers today and tomorrow in the Cohen Family StudioTheater. Set in 1950s Liverpool, it's about a woman with too many children who is talked into giving up one of a pair of newborn fraternal twins. Despite her efforts and those of the unstable woman who wanted a baby, the boys meet and become not just friends but "blood brothers." They don't know their history, they simply feel drawn to one another. That leads to a tragic, perhaps inevitable, confrontation. But there is humor and an energetic Pop Rock score along the way. Hannah Kornfeld is heartbreaking as the conflicted mother; Thomas Knapp and Karl Amundson turn in heart-breaking performances as the ill-fated boys, from age 7 to 22. This weekend only; the final performance is Saturday evening at 8 p.m. Tickets are free but need to be reserved (513-556-4183); call in advance — performances are often sold out.

Perhaps you'd like to take a kid or two to see a show. The Cincinnati Playhouse's "Off the Hill" production, Roses & Thorns, based on "Beauty and the Beast," would be a fine choice. It's a touring production for kids ages 7 and up, and it's making its way to various neighborhoods over the next month or so (through Nov. 2). I attended a preview recently and found it thoroughly enjoyable. It's a sweet retelling of the familiar story whose love and devotion saves her family and breaks a curse on a monstrous beast who's really a handsome prince. The show uses clever props and costumes, slapstick, satire and high camp styles; its four actors are professionals in training, and their work, playing multiple characters and making quick changes, is great fun to watch. This weekend it's onstage at the Lebanon Theatre Company (10 S. Mechanic St., Lebanon) on Sunday at 2 p.m. Check the Playhouse's website for future performances around the Tristate. Tickets in Lebanon are $5: 513-228-0932

If you missed Kevin Crowley's one-woman show Sarge during the Cincinnati Fringe Festival last June, it's getting a reprise this weekend and next (it's onstage tonight through Oct. 20). Christine Dye's performance as the devoted but deluded wife of Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, found guilty of molesting young boys, won the Critics Pick of the Fringe. Dye is remarkable in three monologues that reveal the mind of a woman who cannot accept her husband's true nature. It's being presented in a double bill with another short script by local actor and playwright Crowley, The Monkey's Paw, a dark comedy about a couple struggling with the anxieties of early parenthood. Performances at Clifton Performance Theater, 404 Ludlow Avenue. Tickets ($25): 513-861-7469

I gave Critic's Picks in CityBeat recently to two excellent productions recently, and they remain onstage this weekend. I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a one-woman piece about cooking and relationships (charming actress Antoinette LaVecchia prepares an Italian dinner while describing her bad luck with men). Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888 … The Little Dog Laughed finishes its run this weekend at New Edgecliff Theater at Hoffner Hall (4120 Hamilton, Ave., Northside. It's the story of a gay actor whose agent is trying to keep him from ruining his career by being public about his persuasion. It's surprising how a play from 2007 could present anxieties about something that today is much more accepted, but this production is great fun to watch thanks to four fine actors, especially Kemper Florin as the motor-mouthed, scheming agent. Tickets: ($20-$27): 888-428-7311
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Spaghetti, Macbeth and More]]> Last night I was at the Cincinnati Playhouse for the opening of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, a charming one-woman play based on Giulia Melucci's foodie memoir from 2009. The frame of the show is that it's set in a stylish kitchen where actress Antoinette LaVecchia prepares a meal while sketching out her numerous disconnects in search of love, feeding boyfriends but finding herself starving. Four couples pay a bit more ($35 apiece beyond the ticket price) to sit at tables directly in front of her kitchen where she serves antipasti, salad and spaghetti Bolognese that she prepares as she talks about a series of amusing but unpromising relationships, convincingly painting portraits of her ill-fated choice in men. La Vecchia is so natural in the role (which she originated in 2012 and has played at several regional theaters since then) that you'll feel like you're one of her best friends. Running through Oct. 26, this Shelterhouse production gets a Critic's Pick. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888

I also thoroughly enjoyed New Edgecliff Theatre's production of The Little Dog Laughed (at Hoffner Hall, 4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside). The four-actor comedy by Douglas Carter Beane is about Diane, an acerbic agent, and Mitch, the actor whose career she's advancing. He's found a boyfriend he really likes (even though boyfriend is a male prostitute with a girlfriend), but she's convinced that this news could ruin his chances … and hers. Kemper Florin is a hoot as the motor-mouthed agent, spouting all sorts of crazy theories about how things should be in monologues that directly address the audience. The entire cast does a fine job, and I gave this one a Critic's Pick. Tickets ($20-$27): 888-428-7311


Area universities have two classics to offer. At UC's College-Conservatory of Music in a brief weekend run (through Sunday) it's Shakespeare's classic tragedy, Macbeth. In an unusual twist, the production features third-year female drama student Laura McCarthy as the power-mad military man who seizes the throne of Scotland. Tickets ($27-$31): 513-556-4183 … South of the Ohio River, Northern Kentucky University presents Euripides' The Bacchae, a play first performed in 405 B.C. The tale of power, revenge, decadence and debauchery takes place in Thebes, where citizens are torn between worship of the god Dionysus and the centrality of reason and humanism. Sunday will be the conclusion of a two-week run of the production. Tickets ($14): 859-572-5464

The musical Dirty Dancing, based on a hit movie from 1987 about young love at a family resort in the Catskills, wraps up two weeks of performance at the Aronoff Center. The touring production, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati through Sunday, features some dazzling video and lots of dancing. The story is pretty predictable, but it's one that people love. "Don't put Baby in the corner." Tickets ($39-$89): 513-621-2787]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Dirty Dancing, Laughing Dogs and More]]> To see some of Cincinnati's finest actors working together in close quarters, check out Clifton Players' production of Kevin Crowley's new play The Riverside, onstage through Saturday at Clifton Performance Theatre (located just west of the Clifton/Ludlow business district at 404 Ludlow). It's 1989 and the denizens of a fictional bar in a very real Mt. Adams are riled up over Pete Rose's battle with the baseball commissioner gambling problems as well as the imminent closing of the family-owner bar where they all hang out. Although a few of the characters are rather caricatured, it's evident that Crowley is a close observer of everyday people. They drink and fight, love and cheat. And they have their passions, feelings that bubble up and over. The theater is a small space with seating for just a few dozen, but that's part of the fun — you feel like you're one of the regulars at the Riverside. Tickets ($25): https://cpt.tixato/com/buy

I caught a performance of Dirty Dancing, a musical based on the iconic 1987 movie about sensual dancing and the intermingling of guests and staff at a posh resort in the Catskills in 1963. This touring show is presented by Broadway in Cincinnati at the Aronoff Center, even though it has yet to land on Broadway. It uses a lot of creative video and projections, a constant reminder that its roots are cinematic. But it has an ensemble of vigorous dancers, especially Jillian Mueller as idealistic Frances "Baby" Houseman, who's eager to grow up, and Samuel Pergande as bad-boy dance instructor Johnny Castle. There's also Jenny Winton, whose dancing is especially watchable as the very sexy Penny Johnson. This is a dance show from start to finish, using familiar Pop tunes from the '60s plus a lot of sambas and rumbas. I realized as the performance  was winding up that the central characters never sang — not once. Mueller and Pergande look great as they recreate the iconic movie roles created by Jennifer Gray and Patrick Swayze, but virtually all the singing is handled by ensemble members Doug Carpenter and Jennlee Shallow — powerful vocalists who handle a number of singing styles, but who especially elevate the temperature with the show's best-known numbers, including "The Time of My Life." Don't go expecting great acting beyond the leads: Most of the rest of the roles range from shallow to silly. But trust me, you'll be surrounded by people who know and love this story, and they're having a good time, waiting until the moment when Johnny shouts, "Don't put Baby in the corner!" Through Oct. 5. Tickets: $39-$89: 513-621-2787

New Edgecliff Theatre has finally found a new home, Hoffner Lodge (4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside), after a season at the Aronoff. NET's first production at the former St. Patrick's church will be Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed, a very funny four-character comedy from 2006 about a Hollywood star, his controlling agent, his boyfriend and the boyfriend's girlfriend. Yes, it's that complicated, and that's the source of much of the humor as the agent tries to keep the lid on the gossip about her star client. Through Oct. 11. Tickets ($20-$27): 888-428-7311

A couple of well-received shows are still running, including Tennessee Williams' classic drama A Streetcar Named Desire at the Covedale Center (through Oct. 5; tickets: 513-241-6550), a stage version of The Great Gatsby at Cincinnati Shakespeare (through Oct. 4; tickets 513-381-2273), and a fast-paced mystery, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club, at the Cincinnati Playhouse (through Oct. 4; tickets: 513-421-3888). Finally, this weekend is your last chance to see Showbiz Players' staging of the tongue-in-cheek musical Reefer Madness, about the "dangers" of marijuana, at the Carnegie in Covington. Tickets ($19.50-$22.50): 859-957-1940. ]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Riverside, Reefer and Sondheim]]>

There are several good productions onstage around town — check out CityBeat coverage of Hands on a Hardbody (a musical at ETC), The Great Gatsby (a classic American novel adapted for the stage at Cincy Shakes), Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club (a new adventure for the great detective at the Cincinnati Playhouse) and Tennessee Williams' prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire (at the Covedale) — but if you've seen those, you have other choices for onstage entertainment. Here are three suggestions for shows a little more off the beaten path:

Local actor/director/writer Kevin Crowley has written a play called The Riverside, rooted in Cincinnati (Crowley is a member of a family that's lived locally for generations) and getting a production — he's directing it, too — at Clifton Performance Theatre, just west of the Clifton/Ludlow business district (404 Ludlow). It's set in an imaginary (or rather an imagined) bar called the Riverside, where a bunch of folks in 1989 are following the Pete Rose case about gambling that eventually got him banned from baseball. But there's a lot more happening — like protests in Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In CPT's tiny space is filled up with a lot of talent — Michael Shooner, Daniel Britt, Buz Davis, Mike Dennis, Mindy Heithaus, Reggie Willis, Mark Bowen, MaryKate Moran, Gary McGurk, Pete Wood, Cathy Springfield and Paul Morris — playing folks who hang out and argue about what's going on. I haven't caught this one yet, but everyone who has says it's worth seeing. Through Sept. 27. Tickets ($25): https://cpt.tixato/com/buy

Community theater company Showbiz Players is staging the musical Reefer Madness at the Carnegie in Covington. It opens tonight (and runs through Sept. 28). This tongue-in-cheek show was inspired by a very serious film from 1936 designed to inspire fear and loathing when clean-cut kids fall prey to marijuana. The producers "warn" that it contains adult humor, religious parody and drug use — and note that it will go "straight to your head." Should be a lot of fun for those mature enough to get the jokes ... Tickets ($19.50-$22.50): 859-957-1940

Side by Side by Sondheim was the first musical revue created using songs by the guy who wrote the music and lyrics for shows including Company, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Gypsy and A Little Night Music. That was in 1976 in London, but the tunes are just as fresh and vibrant today as they were nearly four decades ago. Middletown Lyric Theatre is presenting this collection of 25 numbers for two weekends (tonight and tomorrow, as well as Sept. 26-27) — using seven singers and two pianists. Tickets ($15): 513-425-7140
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Sherlock Holmes & More]]>

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club opened last night at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It's a new adventure for the Victorian sleuth. How can that be, you might ask, if you're a Sherlock fan — this isn't a familiar title. That's because playwright Jeffrey Hatcher picked up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's memorable detective, a master of deductive observation, and plugged him into a tale of mystery and intrigue conceived by Robert Louis Stevenson back in 1878. No spoilers here, but I will tell you that the plot of this show requires closely following a complex tale of both personal and political intrigue. Hatcher has set the story in 1914, on the brink of the first World War, and the state of international relations in Europe is woven into the tale. But there's nothing dry about this story, and Steven Hauck's performance as Sherlock is very satisfying: He brings a quirky physicality as well as a sharp wit to the character that makes him very engaging. Fans of Sherlock will not be disappointed by this show. Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

 

I attended the opening of The Great Gatsby at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company last week. In my review, I said, "the production gets the story and the era right," and I added that CSC's Justin McCombs "perfectly embodies" Nick Carraway, the honest narrator of this Jazz Age tale of nouveau riche Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, the one-time debutante who obsesses him. There's lots to like about this production, which captures the essence of lavish parties and the fast life of the Roaring Twenties. Cincy Shakes is committed to bringing classic literary works to the stage, and this production is a good example of how they get it done. Simon Levy's script hews close to F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1924 novel, and the company's actors bring life to the characters. Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273.

 

Everyone I've talked to about Hands on a Hardbody at Ensemble Theatre has been enthusiastic about the show that brings to life a contest to win a Nissan pickup truck by keeping one hand on it the longest. It's a true story (it was a 1997 documentary) and these feel like real people, down on their luck but dreaming what a difference that winning could make. The music is by Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Amanda Green, and the script was written by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright. ETC has staged memorable productions of his play I Am My Own Wife and his musical, Grey Gardens. But the real attraction is an excellent cast who make you believe in these people, struggling to stay away and outlast one another under the brutal sun beating down on the Texas parking lot of a Nissan dealership. It's a fine entertainment. Through Sept. 21. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555.

 

Just opened at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is a production of Tennessee Williams's great American play, A Streetcar Named Desire. It's about a woman who's down on her luck but unwilling to admit it. When genteel Blanche DuBois moves with her pragmatic sister and her brutal, blue-collar husband, Stanley Kowalski, is a rude awakening that goes downhill fast. Through Oct. 5. Tickets ($-$): 513-241-6550.

 

If you've become a fan of shows in the intimate Clifton Performance Theatre, you might want to check out The Riverside, a play written and directed by local theater artist Kevin Crowley. It's a story set in a Cincinnati bar in 1989 as locals follow the saga of Pete Rose's demise in baseball, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Tiananmen Square. But the bar itself is changing, too, impacting the lives of the family that owns it as well as its patrons.

Through Sept. 27. Tickets ($25): https://cpt.tixato.com/buy/.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: 'Tis the Season for Theater]]>

If you'd like to go to the theater every evening for the next four days, there are plenty of options for you to consider as the 2014-2015 season is getting underway on stages all over town. Here are some good choices to consider:

Hands on a Hardbody opened on Wednesday at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, and CityBeat reviewer Stacy Sims called it "effervescent" and "offbeat" in her review, giving it a Critic's Pick. I was there, too, and couldn't agree more about the infectious, heartfelt joy coming from the big cast of 15. The show is based on a true story (the subject of a 1997 documentary) about people in a downtrodden Texas town who enter a contest to win a Nissan pickup truck by outlasting others who vow to keep one hand on the vehicle. The cherry-red truck is as much a character as any of the contestants, the physical embodiment of their hopes and dreams — which take the form of songs by Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Amanda Green. The script by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright treats these diverse, down-on-their-luck folks with dignity, and the performers (who often perform with the truck as their dance partner) bring every one of them to life in vivid ways. This one is a must-see, a great way to kick-off ETC's theater season. Through Sept. 21. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555

The Great Gatsby kicks off Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's season tonight. You didn't know Shakespeare wrote it? Well, he didn't. This theater company focuses on the Bard, to be sure, but it frequently branches out to present stage versions of other classics, in this case an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 classic about a mysterious nouveau-riche millionaire who's obsessed with a one-time debutante. Set in the Jazz Age and inspired by lavish parties the high-flying Fitzgerald attended on the prosperous North Shore of Long Island, Gatsby is a story about the ups and downs of the American Dream. Simon Levy's script is the only one authorized by Fitzgerald's estate, and Cincy Shakes is presenting its regional premiere. (And here's a tip: on opening nights at 6 p.m., the theater offers ticket holders a complimentary catered meal, beer and wine.) Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club opens next Thursday at the Cincinnati Playhouse, but previews begin for the season opener this Saturday (through Wednesday). Tickets for these performances are discounted, and you'll be seeing a show that's pretty much ready to go. Jeffrey Hatcher's script should be lots of fun for fans of the Victorian sleuth. He's taken the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and dropped him into a tale conceived by another inventive writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, for a mash-up that will keep even Baker Street regulars guessing. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Serials! at Know Theatre, which has presented episodes of six Fringe-like shows at two-week intervals all summer long, culminates on Monday evening at 8 p.m. with finales of each tale. Who will win the ultimate fist fight with the Devil in Flesh Descending? How long can Luke really stay in his bedroom during The Funeral? Will we ever find out what's really happening in Mars vs. The Atom? These questions and more will be answered on Monday. Even if you've missed a few episodes, don't worry: Each 15-minute performance begins with a brief recap of the story so far. Zany and fun for anyone who's enjoyed the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669

Finally, a tip for an eye-opening theater experience next weekend: On Sunday, Sept. 14, the Cincinnati area's first-ever South Asian Theater Festival happens in an all-day event at the Anderson Theater (7850 Five Mile Rd.). Five plays are scheduled to be presented, as well as panel discussions, seven hours of programming in all. The day begins at 12:30 p.m. and is set to conclude around 8 p.m. A limited number of tickets remain ($19-$29): SATFCincy.org

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Busy August]]>

Not too many years ago August was a very quiet month on local stages. No longer. You have plenty of good choices this weekend.

Stacy Sims reviewed Know Theatre's production of Harry & the Thief, which opened last week. She called it "a wonderfully ridiculous, history-twisting, large cast mash-up of a play," and that's just the beginning." Sigrid Gilmer's play is a riot of modern perspectives and Civil War values, a mingling of contemporary attitudes with opinions and behaviors long since set aside — but not so far off that we can't recognize them as prejudice, misogyny and racism. But Gilmer's weaves a lot of humor and satire around Harriet Tubman (a real woman who led many people out of slavery into freedom in the 1850s and 1860s). The play has been staged by guest director Holly Derr to spotlight a zany streak of humor that the playwright has generously salted across her script from start to finish. This feels a lot like a Fringe festival show, and that makes sense, since Know is the annual producer of the Cincy Fringe, and Harry & the Thief kicks off its 2014-2015 season.

As Stacy noted, "this bodes well" for the theater now being managed artistically by Andrew Hungerford. I watched a performance earlier this week with a full house resulting from Know's "Welcome Project," throwing its doors open to anyone who wants to come on several Wednesday evenings (hoping that a few of them will pay something, but requiring nothing more than showing up). I suspect many of those in attendance will be recommending this production to friends. Through Aug. 30. Tickets ($20 most of the time, although you can get rush tickets for remaining seats 10 minutes before curtain time, and free next Wednesday, Aug. 20): 513-300-5669.

Speaking of the Fringe, Know presents occasional encores from past festivals. On Sunday evening at 8 p.m. (one night only) you can catch one of the best acts I've ever enjoyed in the Cincy Fringe: David Gaines returns with 7(x1) Samurai, retelling Kurasawa's classic 1954 film in a one-man show that was a hit of the 2009 festival. It's true to the source about victimized peasants, marauding bandits and samurai warriors, astonishing to watch and one hell of a performance. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669.

There's another astonishing, virtuoso work of theater onstage, this one south of the Ohio River at Covington's Carnegie Theatre. It's Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I plan to see it on Friday evening (it opened last week), but people are already saying that Justin Glaser brings a great voice to the maniacal killer and Helen Raymond-Goers sings the role of the meat-pie-baking Mrs. Lovett with both wit and polish. This is one of the greatest musicals of the late 20th century, and all indicators are that this is a production worth seeing. Through Aug. 23. Tickets ($21-$28): 859-857-1940.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will double your choices this weekend. At its Race Street theater you'll find the final performances of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), a comic rendering — or at least passing references to — all 38 of the Bard's plays, his sonnets and some amusingly presented "facts" about his life. It's a romp from start to finish, featuring three of Cincy Shakes' best actors having a hell of a good time onstage, Jeremy Dubin, Justin McCombs and Nicholas Rose. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273.

If you want something a tad closer to the original, find one of CSC's free touring productions at an area park: Macbeth on Friday night (7 p.m.) at Keehner Park in West Chester and Saturday evening (7 p.m.) at Cottell Park in Mason or A Midsummer Night's Dream on Sunday evening (6 p.m.) at Washington Park. These are somewhat reduced productions (done in two hours) using just six actors: That makes them all the more exciting to watch — and to be dazzled by actors who can convincingly play multiple roles.
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Free Shakespeare!]]>

The big show this weekend will be Lumenocity in Washington Park. If you were lucky enough to get a ticket, you'll be seeing some great images on Music Hall's facade with accompaniment by the Cincinnati Symphony. If you weren't so lucky, you can still enjoy the show via radio (WGUC), television, big screens (at Fountain Square and Riverbend, for free) or via live streaming at lumenocity2014.com.

If you want to check out a free show at another park, how about free performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream? Cincinnati Shakespeare kicks off its Shakespeare in the Park tour this weekend. They'll be at Seasongood Pavilion at Eden Park on Friday evening, at Harry Whiting Brown Lawn in Glendale on Saturday and the Community Park Pavilion at the Milford Historical Society in Milford on Sunday. Performances generally begin around 7 p.m. Show up earlier to get a good seat and enjoy six of Cincy Shakes actors playing a bunch of characters in a very funny comedy.

On the West Side, it's the final weekend for Footloose The Musical, presented as the 33rd annual summer show by Cincinnati Young People's Theatre at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. This is a program that gives teens from across Greater Cincinnati a chance to work onstage and backstage. During the past three decades more than 2,300 kids have participated. The show, based on a popular movie from 1984, is about a teenager and his mother who move from Chicago to a small farming town where dancing is frowned upon by the local preacher. But his rebellious daughter shakes things up and love wins out. It's a fine show for teens. Tickets ($12-$16): 513-241-6550.

If you're willing to make the drive to Dayton, you have the opportunity to check out workshops of new musical theater material at the Human Race Theatre Company. Molly Sweeney is about a young woman whose blindness becomes an obstacle for her new husband to overcome, even though she has a different perspective. (It's happening Friday night at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.) The second work is a songwriter showcase (Saturday at 8 p.m.) by a dozen creators who are working on new shows. It's being hosted by Dayton native Susan Blackwell, creator of the clever [title of show]. Advance tickets ($15): 888-228-3630 – or $20 at the door at the Loft Theatre (126 N. Main St., Dayton).
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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Shakin' It]]>

If you paid attention to the local theater season just concluded, you will recall that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company completed a herculean task: During its 20-year existence, the classic theater has produced all 38 of Shakespeare's plays. This summer three of Cincy Shakes' best actors are repeating the feat — sort of — with a production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), opening tonight. Jeremy Dubin, Justin McCombs and Nicholas Rose will be careening through the comedies, histories and tragedies digging props, wigs and ridiculous costumes out of a trunk. This is a perfect summer laugh-fest, and it's been a predictable hit in past seasons for Cincy Shakes, so tickets are sure to sell fast. Through Aug. 11. Tickets ($22-$35): 513-381-2273.

Summertime musicals are another great tradition, and Cincinnati Young People's Theatre has been presenting them with big casts of high school students for three decades. In fact, the just-opened production of Footloose at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is the 33rd summer show. It's the stage version of the popular 1984 movie musical, and it's a perfect vehicle for youthful energy focused on a group of high school kids — despite a repressive conservative atmosphere, kids in a small farming town just want to dance and have fun. With Tim Perrino at the helm, CYPT has steered more than 2,300 teens through entertaining shows, and this one will be another notch in his director's belt, providing experience for performers and techies alike. Through Aug. 3, you'll be able to come out and "Hear It for the Boy"! Tickets ($12-$16): 513-241-6559.

I wrote a CityBeat column a week ago about John Leo Muething, an ambitious young theater artistic who's staging a couple of shows this summer at the Art Academy's auditorium on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine. His second of three shows, repertory theatre, will be produced this weekend (Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.). It's about a timid young playwright who approaches a veteran director about his new play. With Shakespeare's Hamlet echoing throughout, things get wilder and wilder. This show was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe for two years, and its original production is still touring in England; this is its U.S. premiere. Tickets ($10) at the door.

The Commonwealth Theatre Company's Route 66 winds up its run at Northern Kentucky University this weekend on Sunday. It's the tale of a band headed for the West Coast in the 1960s stopping at juke joints, diners, cheap motels and curio shops along one of America's legendary highways. Wes Carman, Roderick Justice, Dain Alan Paige and Joshua Steele play The Chicago Avenue Band. Dinner and the show ($30): 859-572-5464.

If Monday evening arrives and you're still yearning for something entertaining onstage, you can't go wrong with the next quarterly installment of TrueTheatre. This time around it's trueBLOOD, with the warning that if you cringe easily, this might not be the show for you. Whether it's stories that make your blood run cold — or just run — you can be sure that there will be first-person tales of memorable experiences. Great fun with a lively audience. One night only, Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. at Know Theatre. Tickets ($15, only a few left): 513-300-5669.

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