CityBeat Blogs - Theater <![CDATA[Stage Door: Last Chance for Fringe]]>

Friday and Saturday are the final two days of performances from the Cincinnati Fringe. You can read reviews of all the shows at CityBeat's special Fringe blog site. But for your quick reference, here's a list of the shows that received "Critic's Picks" from one of our writers. ---(Those marked with * have finished their runs):

Curriculum Vitae*

Fire and Light

Headscarf and the Angry Bitch*

I Love You (We're Fucked)

Melancholy Play*


Miss Magnolia Beaumont Goes to Provincetown

Peyote Business Lunch

The Body Speaks (Movement)

You Only Live Forever Once

Many of these shows' performances are completely sold out, so check in early or you might find yourself out in the cold (well, maybe out in the heat).

For your added guidance, two additional shows have been recommended by the Acclaim Award panelists, a separate set of theater experts who are evaluating productions: Darker and The VindleVoss Family Circus Spectacular. (They also recommended several of the CityBeat picks: Fire and Light, You Only Live Forever Once and closed shows Headscarf and Curriculum Vitae.)

One other good bet, while it's not a Fringe show, is also in the OTR neighborhood: An independent production of A Big Gay Wedding at Below Zero on Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. It's an audience participation piece (in the same vein as Tony and Tina's Wedding), and apparently audiences have been having a blast — and shows have been nearly sold out. You can order yours by calling 513-621-2787 or online at

Have a great weekend!

<![CDATA[Alert!: Film Fringe Is Thursday]]>

CityBeat’s theater guru Rick Pender is right when he pimps the Cincy Fringe Festival as an “Antidote to Uptight” — personally speaking, the annual smorgasbord of edgy indie theater is among the best 12 days the city has to offer. Even the productions that don’t work are at least unique in one way or another. (Check CityBeat’s extensive Fringe coverage for proof.)

Furthermore, as an Over-the-Rhine resident, it’s always heartening to see our city’s most historic and interesting neighborhood even more alive than usual during the fest’s run, a bohemian beehive of activity that celebrates creativity, passion and, as Fringe Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier likes to say, weirdness over all else. ---

That creativity will likely extend to this year’s Film Fringe, which is undergoing a slight shift in focus. Previous Film Fringe installments have explored what it “means to be on the fringe of film through a wide variety of viewpoints from around the world.”

The results were mixed and often less interesting than the theatrical portion of the fest, so give organizers credit for trying something different: This year’s film contribution will look at what it “means to bring the fringe to Cincinnati — specifically what it’s like to stage a Cincinnati Fringe theatrical experience,” as various filmmakers will document multiple Fringe performances and present their findings 10 p.m. Thursday at the Art Academy.

That sounds pretty vague and open-ended. But, given the people involved, it should at least be a singular experience. Weird, even.

<![CDATA[ETC Announces 2011-2012 Season]]>

Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC) has turned over a new leaf, at least for its 26th season. Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers has typically spent much of the summer making last-minute arrangements for the shows she’ll offer starting in September. In good years, she’s been able to announce her choices around the time of the Tony Awards, roughly the second week of June. So I’m pleased (and a bit surprised) to tell you that Meyers has pulled it all together for May 1. It’s unprecedented — what’s more, it’s a remarkably good season. ---

Each of ETC’s five non-holiday offerings for 2011-2012 are regional premieres, launching with the Tony Award winning musical Next to Normal — which also picked up the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. The holidays will offer a newly commissioned world premiere musical, Snow White, by the team of David Kisor and Joe McDonough.

The current season featured record-breaking attendance and sold-out houses, so ETC has added Tuesday evening and Saturday matinee performances for all shows next season. The success of 2010-2011 has resulted in the best round of early renewals in ETC’s history, with nearly 85 percent of subscribers renewed even before the list of great productions was made public.

Next to Normal (Sept. 7-25) is a great season kickoff. It was chosen as one of the 2009-2010 season’s 10 best Broadway shows by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Time Out New York, New York Daily News, The Bergen Record and NY1. It became an even rarer commodity when it won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, something few musicals have achieved. (Rent, A Chorus Line and Sunday in the Park with George are a few of the rare exceptions.) The Pulitzer Board called the show “a powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness in a suburban family and expands the scope of subject matter for musicals.”

In October, ETC will produce the regional premiere of Michael Hollinger’s Ghost-Writer. (His play Opus was a 2007 hit for ETC.) Set in early twentieth-century New York, novelist Franklin Woolsey dies mid-sentence … yet his devoted secretary, Myra, continues to take dictation. Attacked by skeptics, the media and Woolsey’s jealous widow, Myra sets out to prove she is more than just an artful forger.

The 2011 holiday season will offer Snow White (Nov. 30-Dec. 31). ETC’s holiday fairytale musicals have been pleasing audiences for more than 15 years, so it’s great to have a new work from composer Kisor and playwright McDonough; this will be their eighth collaboration. The show is based on the story that reminds us the true reflection of beauty and happiness can only be found within.

I’m especially looking forward to The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez (Jan. 25-Feb. 12, 2012), a show that received great notices during its recent Broadway run. During Passover, 1865, with the Civil War just ended, Caleb DeLeon, a Jewish Confederate soldier, returns wounded from the battlefield to find his family home in ruins, occupied only by two former slaves who were raised as Jews. As they wait for the family's return, they wrestle with their shared past as master and slave. This will be the first regional production of The Whipping Man since its run at the Manhattan Theatre Club in February 2011. It was recently nominated for the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award, presented for an American play by a new playwright.

For the season’s fourth production (March 14-April 1, 2012), ETC will offer Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still, a nominee for the 2010 Tony Award for best play. It’s a gripping story of internal struggles, set against the backdrop of the Middle East conflict. Two journalists, Sarah and James, were once addicted to the adrenalin of war coverage, but are now grounded in Brooklyn by Sarah’s injuries from a roadside bomb in Iraq. Margulies wrote Collected Stories, the show that opened ETC’s 2010-2012 season, as well as the 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner With Friends (which ETC gave its Cincinnati premiere in 2001).

The season will wrap up on a lighter note with the regional premiere of Life Could Be A Dream by Roger Bean (May 2-20, 2012). It’s a funny piece about the Crooning Crabcakes, the boy group banned from the Springfield High School prom that made it possible for The Marvelous Wonderettes to perform. (The Marvelous Wonderettes did big box office for ETC at in May 2010, and the girls will be back this July in a sequel, The Winter Wonderettes.) The 2012 production offers the guys one more chance at fame and fortune. The show features Pop tunes from the 1950s including “Stay” (Just a Little Bit Longer),” “Runaround Sue,” “Tears On My Pillow,” “Unchained Melody” and “Earth Angel.”

ETC has a solid track record of pleasing its subscribers. The best way to ensure that you’ll get in to see each of these productions is to subscribe now. (Several shows during 2010-2011 were best-sellers, meaning that single ticket buyers sometimes missed out. Single tickets don’t go on sale until Aug. 15, 2011.) You can subscribe now by calling the theater at 513-421-3555 or checking out ETC’s website:

<![CDATA[Ed Stern to Leave Playhouse After 20 Years]]>

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern today announced that he will leave the esteemed regional theater after two more seasons, following the 2011-12 season, his 20th. Ed’s tenure at the Playhouse predates CityBeat’s coming into existence: He began in 1992, two years before CityBeat began publishing. I had the pleasure of writing about the recovery of the theater under Stern for EveryBody’s News and then for CityBeat; the Playhouse was in desperate financial straits when Stern and Executive Director Buzz Ward took over — a $1.25 million accumulated deficit.---

Stern began gradually and cautiously with shows that would attract audiences but not break the bank. But showmanship was also part of his formula — in 1992-93 he mixed Timberlake Wertenbaker’s historical drama Our Country’s Good with Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten and a wildly popular revue of tunes by Fats Waller, Ain’t Misbehavin’.

The latter musical was repeated for the 2009-10 season, the Playhouse’s 50th anniversary — another season typical of Stern, with popular classics including the Anthony Shaffer murder-mystery Sleuth and the ever-popular classic small-cast musical, The Fantasticks (Stern staged the latter with great results) plus a season stuffed full of world premiere works.

Stern often has reminded me that a responsible contemporary theater has to play a role in cultivating new works to keep the theater alive and looking to the future while still honoring the past by producing works for which audiences have demonstrated their love and appreciation.

Stern’s tenure has shown that kind of marvelous balance, and his audience has come to trust him, sustaining an admirable subscriber base even if some shows didn’t please everyone. In fact, it’s tough to get good subscription seats in the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse Theater, which presents fare that might be characterized as “off-Broadway.” But not always. Stern loves to defy expectations every year: He directed Shakespeare’s Othello in that intimate space in 2007, and it was among his best productions.

Stern’s leadership brought the Playhouse national recognition in 2004 when the company won the Regional Theater Tony Award. Even more impressive, the Playhouse’s 2007 production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company, directed by Tony Award winner John Doyle, transferred to Broadway and won that year’s Tony for the best revival of a musical.

Stern is giving the Playhouse board plenty of time to find his successor.

“I feel such a loyalty to the Playhouse that I want the transition to be as smooth as possible, and this will allow me to work through the transition with my eventual successor,“ he said in a press announcement released today. “The Playhouse has been an outstanding part of the Greater Cincinnati community for 51 years. I have been honored to be part of that incredible theatrical tradition and feel confident that I am leaving it with a bright and promising future.”

Stern won’t be easy to replace, but his successor will inherit one of the finest regional theaters in the United States. All of us who live in Cincinnati and love good theater owe a debt of gratitude to this boisterous, thoughtful man who has been presenting us with excellent theater for nearly two decades.

Best wishes, Ed. With a mixture of sadness and appreciation, I look forward to watching your final two seasons in Cincinnati.

And a footnote: As to what Stern will do next, he says, “I don’t ever see myself retiring. I look forward to directing regional theater and university projects and not to be in charge of day-to-day operations anymore. I’m ready to leave that to someone younger — but not wiser!”

<![CDATA[25: The Season (at Ensemble Theatre)]]>

OK, I’m a little behind the curve in sharing the word about Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s 25th season, which was actually announced about a week ago. It was a tad anticlimactic, since Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers had announced some of this information back in early June. Nevertheless, with the opening of the 2010-2011 season just a few weeks away, the complete picture is now in place. ETC will offer four regional premieres, a premiere musical revue and several special limited performance events.---

ETC will open its silver anniversary season with the regional premiere of Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories (Sept. 8-26). Margulies is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and the show just had a strong Broadway run. It’s likely to play well with Cincinnati audiences. (ETC has done sterling work with other scripts by Margulies, including Dinner With Friends and Sight Unseen.) It’s the story of an accomplished author with a romantic past and her bright-eyed young protégé.

The season’s second production will be another regional premiere, Thurgood (Oct.13-31) by George Stevens Jr., a one-actor tribute to the legendary civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall, who eventually found himself in a seat on the United States Supreme Court. He started out as a troubled kid from the backstreets of Baltimore. The play describes his journey.

Running during the same period as Thurgood will be six performances of Kathy Y. Wilson’s Your Negro Tour Guide, a one-woman adaptation of columns and commentaries by the outspoken former CityBeat columnist. Her columns for the paper and commentaries for National Public Radio have been turned into a one-woman performance by CCM drama grad Torie Wiggins. (The piece was presented locally during the 2009 Fringe Festival; it has subsequently toured around the country.)

ETC has a way with the holidays, and this year they’re resurrecting Cinderella (Dec. 1-30), an original fairytale musical that was a big hit with local audiences back in 2005. It’s a clever retelling of a familiar story with a book by local playwright Joe McDonough, lyrics by David Kisor and music by Fitz Patton.

Moving into 2011, ETC will present a 2010 Tony nominee for best play, Gregory Nauffts’ Next Fall (Jan. 26-Feb. 13), winner of the Outer Critics Circle Award for best new American play. The story explores issues of faith, gay partnership, families and what it means to love in a world that is trying to come to grips with new ways of defining who we are.

Another award winner follows, Deborah Zoe Laufer’s End Days (March 16-April 3). The regional premiere of the play that received a 2008 citation from the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association is about the apocalypse coming Wednesday — in the midst of a raft of other personal traumas facing Rachel Stein that include her reclusive father, her mother (who’s made friends with Jesus) and a 16-year-old neighbor who’s an Elvis impersonator. Laufer’s play Sirens was a big hit at the 2010 Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

To wrap up the regular season, ETC is cobbling together a greatest-hits compilation of music from its 25 seasons — ranging from Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Great American Trailer Park Musical to Grey Gardens, Souvenir and The Marvelous Wonderettes. I suspect that fans of ETC will love 25: The Musical (May 4-22).

ETC had enough box office success during its last season to decide to add a Saturday matinee subscription series. The theater has also decided to seek a summer audience, a venture ETC has not undertaken for quite a few years. They’ll present With Glee (June 15-July 3), with book music and lyrics by John Gregor. It has nothing to do with the hit TV series: It’s a musical comedy about five nerdy teenage boys sent away to a boarding school in Maine. As they revel in the trials of their freshman year the show offers the notion that every life must be lived to its fullest, every song sung with glee. The show recently had an extended off-Broadway run and it seems like the kind of show that audiences will love during the summer months.

Subscriptions go on sale Monday. With Glee, not part of the season package, will be available for purchase by subscribers in early November. Find more info here.

<![CDATA[Stage Door: Heavy Drama This Weekend]]>

If you can't find some good theater to attend this weekend, you simply aren't looking. I'm sure that fans of musicals will be heading to the Aronoff to check out the tour of Mary Poppins, and for a meaty dramatic classic, you simply can't go wrong with Angels in America at Know Theatre (read my review here). But let me offer a tip on a show you've certainly never seen but that's likely to have people talking: It's the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's world premiere of David Bar Katz's The History of Invulnerability.---

This piece has a little bit of everything: Nostalgia for comic books, humor as Superman and his creator, Jerry Siegel, spar with one another about what it means to be a hero and some serious drama as we watch how Siegel's creation from the late '30s played out for Jews in Nazi concentration camps, hoping for a latter-day savior, an invulnerable hero who could come to their rescue. It's also a visual feast, with the entire Shelterhouse Theater decorated with comic book art recalling pulp publications from the middle of the 20th century — the walls, video screens, even the floor of the stage are covered with constantly changing images.

The Playhouse has given Cincinnati several gifts during its 50th anniversary season, but this one might be the best one yet. For tickets: 513-421-3888 or click here. For more info, click here.

<![CDATA[Stage Door: Long-Legs and Top Girls]]>

OK, I can't see any theater in Cincinnati this weekend because I'm attending the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville, 100 miles down I-71. But if I were in town, I'd have to make some tough choices.

Because of a busy travel schedule, I missed the opening of Daddy-Long-Legs at the Cincinnati Playhouse, but everyone I've talked to has enjoyed it. CityBeat reviewer Tom McElfresh described it as " a two-performer evening of grace and delicacy that’s tuneful, true to the original and altogether satisfying." ---The romantic musical based on a 1912 novel about a young woman growing out of orphanhood into a charming adult runs through April 10, but by that time there will be lots of other shows competing for your attention, so I suggest that you head to Mount Adams this weekend. Get show details and tickets here.

If you want something more adventurous, you can get a double-dose of feminism and fearful fantasy this weekend with an excursion on separate nights to Northern Kentucky University, where two stimulating works are being presented in rep (that is, on alternating nights, or in the case of Saturday, one in the afternoon and the other in the evening). Both Top Girls and Omnium-Gatherum are by women. First staged in 1982, Caryl Churchill's Top Girls is an unusal marriage of imaginative and naturalistic material — Act I features women (the "top girls") from various periods of history together at a dinner party; Act II is about a woman struggling with the mundane turbulence of everyday life in a man's world.

Omnium-Gatherum, by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, is a wholly different dinner party. Written and first presented just after 9/11 (in fact it was a Humana Festival production), it brings together a cross-section of dinner guests who represent many aspects of society and world population. They're teetering on the edge of Hell, it seems, and the world around them is crumbling. Both works are challenging and thought provoking. (By the way, Rebeck, a Cincinnati native, has a new show, The Understudy, coming to the Cincinnati Playhouse's Shelterhouse Theater next fall.) Through April 4; get details and tickets here.

<![CDATA[Transmigration: Creativity Under the Grow Lights]]> On Feb. 19 and 20, I spent about six hours at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music wandering from room to room and space to space to see theatrical works created by students in CCM’s drama program. The “event” is called Transmigration, a term that suggests souls that are evolving, and that’s pretty much what it felt like I was witnessing.---

Transmigration is the brainchild of department chair Richard Hess, who uses virtually all of the students in his conservatory program. They're divided up into teams in order to write, rehearse, promote and perform eight distinct pieces, each about 30 minutes in length. It’s an ambitious and arduous undertaking, a bit messy and disruptive. But that’s the essence of creativity, and I suspect the students love being engaged in this unusual gestation process for works that spring from their own minds.

As students in a drama program, they're typically in plays written by others and directed by their elders. Transmigration gives them the opportunity to understand what a playwright has to do and how a work moves from idea and concept to stage and performance. There's a kind of fresh idealism to these works, which makes sense since the students are undergraduates, most of them under the age of 22.

Their works reflect the trauma of love that’s fresh then lost or humor that’s adolescent. But I went with that expectation: This festival is a bit like the younger sibling of the annual Cincy Fringe Festival, full of energy and open-mindedness about what can be achieved with some actors and a space to perform.

Change Corp. and deadREM were performed in the lower atrium lobby space adjacent to Patricia Corbett Theater. Both pieces depended on pre-recorded sound, which was unfortunate because the acoustics were garbled. Set in the realm of dreaming and escape, deadRem had a disjointed quality that was intriguing, though the emotions were rather naively presented as a young man pined for a young woman who had died — should he dream of her or pass over into the nether world where she might still be around?

Change Corp. added projected imagery to its vocabulary of ideas, which meant it couldn’t be presented during the matinee slot on Saturday because there was too much ambient light. The story of a drifting young man who is swept away by a cult-like group of positive thinkers (full of empty, radiant smiles and clad in white T-shirts) was meant to shock audiences when it’s revealed what’s behind the organization. The predictable outcome made the piece less engaging.

Still Life, a work that leaned heavily on movement and choreography was about people (and perhaps puppets) whose lives seemed to be determined by forces beyond their control. (A puppeteer stood on a balcony throughout the piece as if he were making the performers move according to his whim.) The piece was interesting to watch and skillfully performed, but its meaning escaped me.

Sharing the Cohen Family Studio Theater space with Still Life was Happiness Is a Supple Puppy. The inscrutable title perhaps implied an odd, maybe suggestive tone, and the piece had a number of elements that might be interpreted as the result of too much testosterone. Some of it was over-the-top and intentionally offensive, but two actors carved out memorable characters: Parker Searfoss, who is small and manic, whipped through a half-dozen roles, including hyperactive a police investigator, that kept the audience laughing; Alec Silberblatt was a radio talk-show dream analyst who sounded for all the world like a Borscht-Belt comedian from the 1920s — funny, crude, distracted and extremely watchable.

Four works were presented in studio classrooms. Flushed was a bizarre story of a mute fellow who gets sucked into a happy dream world through a secret toilet stall; the work had some interesting contrasts of control and freedom, and the simple emotions were pleasant, but the work didn't hold my interest.

Tap Dancing on Jell-o had a more traditional script, with two sets of seemingly unrelated characters whose stories unfolded in counterpoint. One was about a marriage that’s failing because of self-centered communication; the other about two guys who meet randomly and find some common ground that helps each to move on. The piece showed some promising writing (and had two very amusing female characters), but it needed more development.

When a show is called Stupid and begins with an invitation to call out suggestions of stupid things, I didn't have very high expectations. But this piece was made genuinely funny by several excellent comic performances, especially Dione Kuraoka, who has a rubbery face she can use to make right-angle turns from grief to laughter to pain. Her moments in a ladies room when a man inadvertently ends up in a nearby stall, and especially when she’s an orderly posing as a doctor and delivering ridiculously bad news to a worried patient, were comic highlights.

My favorite piece during Transmigration was 47 Bottles in a Lake, a very thoughtful show about secrets. The performance area was ringed by beer bottles, wine bottles, liquor bottles and more. Each with a slip of paper, a message in a bottle as it were, with a secret someone had shared. The piece alternated between cast members reading from slips of paper they'd collected during the process of building the piece and more fully constructed scenes about a secret teenage romance, an admired cousin who was secretly a drug addict and more. The acting was solid, and its intentions were just right for the performers. Student actor Amy Berryman played a central role in several elements with an air of serious openness that made her watchable and charismatic.

I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to see these works, even the ones I couldn’t quite figure out. I like to see creativity under the grow lights, and that’s what was going on at CCM last weekend.

<![CDATA[Stage Door: Holiday-Free Theater ]]>

I think there are few more satisfying segments of musical theater than the opening 10 minutes of the musical Chicago, which is in town for a brief run at the Aronoff Center. The first number, “All That Jazz,” gives you an encyclopedia of the stylistic dance moves of iconic choreographer Bob Fosse, followed by “Funny Honey,” an introduction of Roxie Hart, who murders her low-life lover. A few minutes later, “Cell Block Tango” provides the set-up for the colorful women who are in prison for their acts of violence. The touring production stars Terra MacLeod as Velma Kelly and Bianca Marroquin as Roxie Hart (the roles played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger in the Academy Award-winning film) and they dance and sing with the requisite zest. Chicago opens with a quick speech defining it as containing “violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery — all the things we hold near and dear to our hearts.” If you’re looking for a stylish musical with nary a whiff of the holidays, this is the show to see this weekend. It runs through Sunday. Tickets: 800-982-2787.

<![CDATA[Stage Door: Fringe Festival (Slight Return)]]> This is a weekend to catch up on local theater — or perhaps to be reminded of the many riches we have available to us.--- On Friday and Saturday evenings at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine) you can see catch reprises of popular productions from the 2009 Cincinnati Fringe. One is The Success Show (both evenings at 8 p.m.), a take-off on a motivational training seminar, complete with PowerPoint and cliches about living a more fruitful life. (Read our review here.) Nothing quite works the way it should, however, and the team of presenters, played with deadpan seriousness by George Alexander and Randy Lee Bailey, find themselves in a downward spiral of mistakes. If you'd like a double-bill, show up on Friday for Incredulity, an improv comedy act that kicks off at 9:30 p.m. When Rodger Pille reviewed this one for CityBeat back in June, he wrote, "“What you look for in an improv troupe is trust and familiarity, and the Incredulities display both. The actors are comfortable enough with each other to enter scenes and go with the flow, regardless of where it is headed.” Tickets will be available at the door ($12 per show), and if you can dig up a stub from a Fringe show from June, you'll get a $2 discount.

And if you're feeling forlorn on Sunday evening, head to Below Zero Lounge (1122 Walnut, OTR) to be cheered up by the 13th Annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards. It's our local "Tony Awards" for outstanding theater performers and productions during the 2008-2009 season. Recognition will be handed out in 20 categories, some voted on by the public, others by local theater critics. Doors open at 6 p.m., first awards announced at 7 p.m. The event is free, with a cash bar.

<![CDATA[Fringe Fest Ends Tonight]]>

The 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival wraps up tonight. Starting today at 2 p.m., 18 different productions are presenting their final shows and both Film Fringe and Visual Fringe are wrapping up at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Rick Pender reports that ticket sales have already surpassed Fringe organizers' goals, and today's beautiful weather should bring out a final wave of good attendance.

Reviews of all 18 of today's shows are posted on CityBeat's Fringe micro-site, including The Secrets Project, which opened last night at New Stage Collective and presents its second and final performance tonight at 7:30. In fact, CityBeat writers have reviewed all 31 Fringe shows, with most reviews being posted the morning after their debut performances.---

I want to acknowledge the efforts of Rick Pender and his team of reviewers, who once again provided the area's best media coverage of the Cincy Fringe Festival. I know the Fringe organizers, performers and attendees appreciated their amazing efforts as well. Bravo!

If you're out and about tonight, drop by the Fringe Awards Ceremony Spectacular starting at 11 in Know Theatre's Underground. Winners of the public's voting for best show will be announced, as will winners of similar balloting by critics and by the Fringe producers.

Congratulations to everyone involved in this year's Fringe Festival — it looks to have been the best ever.

<![CDATA[Fringe: 27 Reviews, High Hopes for Second Week]]>

The 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival heads into its second week with high expectations.

"I've heard from a number of patrons that this is the strongest field of shows they've ever seen in at the Fringe, and we agree," Managing Director Eric Vosmeier reports. "Our attendance numbers are up, though it's difficult to say how much just yet."---

Vosmeier says the second week of Fringe (which runs through Saturday) has about 50 percent more performances this week than the first week, which ran Wednesday-Sunday. Three shows have yet to open: Bibliography of Love from Jan Street Dance in Louisville opens tonight, April Fools from Four Humors of Minneapolis opens Thursday and The Secrets Project from The Genesis Ensemble of Chicago runs only Friday and Saturday.

CityBeat has now posted reviews of 27 of the scheduled 31 productions on our Fringe micro site. You'll also find two Fringe-themed podcasts there.

CityBeat's crack/cracked team of reviewers have rated eight shows as Critic's Picks: 7 (x1) Samurai, Body Language II: Phys. Ed., Cemetery Golf, The Edge, Gravesongs, KAZ/m, Sex, Dreams and Self-Control and Where Drunk Men Go.

Vosmeier says the week starts off tonight with the Fringe Olympics, where multiple teams compete in a variety of different rounds, and continues with local bands lined up for the Bar Series each night after the performances end.

Get tickets, multi-show passes and the latest news at the Cincy Fringe Festival site.

<![CDATA[Fringe Reviews: 21 and Counting]]>

Check out CityBeat's extensive coverage of the 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival. As of noon Saturday we've posted reviews of 21 productions, with more coming every day until all 31 shows have been reviewed.---

Also check out two CityBeat podcasts focusing on the Fringe Festival: one is a performance of the festival piece Incredulity, recorded May 28, and in the other Steve Novotni converses with me as well as the festival's Jason Bruffy and Eric Vosmeier.

<![CDATA[Fringe Coverage at 12 Reviews]]>

Check out CityBeat's extensive coverage of the 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival. As of noon we've posted reviews of 12 productions, with more coming every day until all 31 shows have been reviewed.---

This week's podcast focuses on the Fringe Festival, as Steve Novotni converses with Jason Bruffy, Eric Vosmeier and me.

<![CDATA[New Stage Collective to Close After Seven Seasons]]>

New Stage Collective has announced it's shutting down operations after presenting Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music April 30-May 8. Producing Artistic Director Alan Patrick Kenny says the musical will be staged at Know Theatre of Cincinnati instead of the company's Main Street space.

In a press release, New Stage trustees are quoted as saying, “We are heartbroken by this painful, difficult decision to cease further operations. The severity of the economic downturn coupled with rapidly diminishing resources made producing another season impossible.”---

“The support from the community has been spectacular throughout our company’s entire history,” Kenny says in the release. “Unfortunately, we are in a new economic reality. In the past we were able to present amazing works of theatre using incredibly talented artists and very few resources. In this new economic reality, the artistic ideas and the talent remain, but the resources do not. I feel we truly did everything we could to survive, but at the end of the day the board and I made the only responsible decision."

New Stage finished a run of critically-acclaimed Bent yesterday and sent out its press release this morning.

UPDATE: In a phone conversation with CityBeat's contributing editor for theater, Rick Pender, Kenny confirmed that the economy was a huge factor in this decision.

"It affected New Stage specifically," he said, adding that "single ticket sales were way down. We have a small, loyal donor base, but they were not enough to sustain us in these difficult financial times."

Kenny, a Cincinnati native who studied musical theater at New York University, added that he's uncertain about his own next steps, saying he's been focused on identifying the best course for New Stage. He says he's eager to continue doing theater, whether it's in Cincinnati or elsewhere.

Kenny recently was recognized as one of CityBeat's Persons of the Year (along with Over-the-Rhine theater colleagues D. Lynn Meyers of Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati and Jason Bruffy of Know Theatre) for persevering in the face of the economic downturn and bringing soul to the ongoing redevelopment efforts in that neighborhood.

A Little Night Music will star award-winning local actors Bruce Cromer and Amy Warner.

The show that was intended to close New Stage's 2008-09 season, City of Angels, has been canceled. Tickets bought for that show will be honored for all performances of A Little Night Music. Subscribers holding tickets for City of Angels will be honored at Ensemble Theatre’s Don’t Make Me Pull This Show Over (April 29-May 17), Know Theatre’s Vigils (April 11-25) and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s The Comedy of Errors (running through April 26; see Tom McElfresh's review here).

<![CDATA[Playhouse Announces World Premieres for 2009-10 Season]]> At the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s announcement event for its 2009-10 season last night, Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern offered some intriguing insights and facts about his upcoming season (see my report on the new season's 11 shows here).---

The show opening the Playhouse’s 50th season next September will be Anthony Shaffer’s mind-bending murder mystery Sleuth from 1970. Ed Stern saw the second-ever public performance of the show while it was still in previews in London. “I knew it would be a hit,” he told Playhouse supporters. (It was presented on Broadway from 1970 until 1973, totalling of 1,222 performances. It’s twice been made into a film, in 1972 and 2007, and Michael Caine was in both versions.)

Stern has again obtained the services of British director John Doyle to stage a show. (Doyle’s previous Playhouse production, a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, moved to Broadway and won a Tony Award.) In October, Doyle’s production of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters — in a new translation by young playwright, Sarah Ruhl (The Clean House, Eurydice) — will mark the first time he’s staged a non-musical work in the United States.

Doyle has made a name for himself with musicals in the last few years, but Stern says his real strength is as a storyteller, adding that Doyle’s staging of Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus in London a few years ago was the finest version of the Mozart play he’s ever witnessed. Just to add to the cachet of this production, Ruhl’s new play, In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) — and yes, the title does mean that kind of vibrator — is scheduled to open on Broadway on Nov. 19. It'll be in previews when The Three Sisters opens here in Cincinnati on Oct. 29. Producers in New York City are sure to be paying attention.

Why does the Playhouse present A Christmas Carol every December? Stern explained that in 2008 it was attended by 21,139 people — 96.5 percent of the Marx Theatre’s capacity. All that ticket revenue helps support other Playhouse productions. That’s why it's back for its 19th year this December.

NPR commentator Kevin Kling will bring his unique perspective on life — he was born with multiple sclerosis and was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident a few years ago — in a one-man show, How? How? Why? Why? Why? that will be presented in the Shelterhouse Theatre in February. What’s that strange title all about? Kling’s disability means he can't use his hands to write, so he has a voice recognition system that transcribes his spoken words. But he also has a dog and a cat. When the dog barks, the transcriber records it as “how”; when the cat meows, the resulting word is “why."

Just to add to the fun, Kling is accompanied onstage by a woman playing the accordion. The show had its first run at the Seattle Repertory Theatre exactly a year ago.

The Shelterhouse season wraps up in May-June 2010 with a show that’s been produced at the Playhouse more than any other: The Fantasticks by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. It was so beloved by early Playhouse audiences that it was presented six times, in 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1969 and 1974 in the Shelterhouse Theatre. The show just happens to be 50 years old in 2010, having premiered the same year the Playhouse opened, in 1960. (It eventually played for 42 years — 17,162 performances — the longest run of any show in theater history.)

The Fantasticks has a Cincinnati connection: It was staged in 1960 by director Word Baker, who subsequently became the Playhouse’s artistic director and who provided lots of advice to the young Ed Stern when he was co-founding Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis in 1971. And here’s one more contemporary connection: When Stern announced the show last night, he used actor Dennis Parlato (currently playing one of the creepy stamp collectors in Mauritius at Ensemble Theatre) to sing the show’s best-known tune, “Try to Remember.” Parlato was in an off-Broadway revival of The Fantasticks last fall.

On a serious and grateful note: The Playhouse is able to put together its remarkable 50th anniversary season thanks to a set of "angels," a group of special donors who have stepped up to cover the additional expenses in a year when such funding is hard to find. It's another vote of confidence in Stern (who's now led the Playhouse for more than a third of its history) and his ability to present memorable work.

Those "angel" donors include Tony Alper and Audrey Albin, Moe and Jack Rouse, The Lois and Richard Rosenthal Foundation, Randolph and Sallie Wadsworth, Charlotte and Robert Otto, The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation, Linda Busken Jergens and Andrew MacAoidh Jergens, James A. Miller, The Sathe Family Foundation, Victoria Buyniski Gluckman and Dr. Jack Gluckman and the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation. The entire Robert S. Marx Theatre season is sponsored by The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation, while the Thompson Shelterhouse season is sponsored by Heidelberg Distributing Co.

<![CDATA[See the Watchmen on YouTube]]>

Here it is. See it uncut and in the comfort of your own home. Well, sorta.

<![CDATA[More Than Kid Stuff]]>

Presuming that reports about Disney's High School Musical wouldn't interest CityBeat's readers, I've not previously written about that popular phenomenon, driven by repeated airing on the Disney Channel. And I'm still not certain that it's of that much interest to anyone who regularly reads this blog.

But I went to see High School Musical 2 on Feb. 28, presented by the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati (CTC) at the Taft Theatre. I imagined a show that would appeal to kids, and my expectations were reinforced by the hordes of moms and dads escorting little ones into the Taft. But what I saw onstage surprised me. ---

In one of my recent Curtain Call columns in CityBeat, I profiled David Centers, the scenic designer for CTC. What he dreamed up for HSM2 was sleek and functional, simple set pieces that moved quickly and let the show flow easily from scene to scene, while nicely providing scenes for a country club where the high school kids became part of a talent show. It also had a touch of a rock show with trusses and lights, operated by performers from raised platforms. HSM2 does not offer much of a story, but it was fun to watch because of Centers' designs and a ton of energetic choreography by Roderick Justice.

Justice is a recent grad of Northern Kentucky University, where he was a standout in musical theater as an actor, singer and dancer. Now he's CTC's associate artistic director, and his talents are in full bloom as HSM2's director and choreographer. He has inventively staged action involving more than two dozen high school performers, and this show was worth attending simply to see how much entertainment could be generated by kids without a ton of experience.

The production also featured solid musical performances, especially Kori Lynn Hoge as the annoying rich girl Sharpay Evans, Amalia Tollas as nice girl Gabriella Montez and Daniel LeClaire as Troy Bolton, the boy they are competing for. All have promising theatrical singing voices, and Hoge, who's 15, showed some acting chops that made her fun to watch as she schemed to be the star of the talent show and win Troy's affections.

Bottom line: CTC doesn't take short-cuts in producing its shows. Just because the audience is young, don't expect that these shows are amateurish. HSM2 was a polished production that compared favorably with many shows with adult performers.

CTC's next production is a musical version of the classic E. B. White story of a pig and a spider, Charlotte's Web, March 27-April 4, also at the Taft. Information:

<![CDATA[Mile-High Plays]]>

I’ve often written in CityBeat about the Humana Festival of New American Plays that happens annually at Actors Theatre of Louisville. I look forward to this annual collection of new works, regarded by many as the premier opportunity in the to see fully staged works by contemporary playwrights. (This year is the Humana Festival’s 33rd iteration, and it opens March 1.)

But Actors Theatre isn't the only place for new work in the United States. I recently spent time at the Colorado New Play Summit, presented in its fourth year by the Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC), which takes a different approach.---

DCTC commissions scripts by up-and-coming writers and gives them readings — simply actors with scripts, sometimes seated, sometimes standing at music stands. There are no costumes or sets, so audiences have to use their imaginations. Based on audience and artistic reaction, DCTC then picks one or two of the scripts for full production during an upcoming season.

In theater spaces throughout the Denver Center, a performing arts facility about twice the size of the Aronoff Center, I saw readings Feb. 12-14 of three of the four commissioned plays, a new adaptation of Meredith Willson’s 1960 musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown and world-premiere productions of two scripts that were read at the 2007 summit.

The two productions were very satisfying theater, works I feel certain will show up in theaters across the U.S. Inana by Michele Lowe is about an Iraqi museum curator’s efforts to save an ancient and precious statue before the American invasion of Baghdad in 2003. This is the kind of show we see regularly at the Cincinnati Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage — one set (a London hotel room where the curator has arrived with his new bride and a mysterious suitcase) but potential for imaginative expansion of recalled moments as the story is told. (Photo at top is of Piter Marek, left, and Mahira Kakkar in Inana.)

I met Lowe over dinner one evening; she told me that her next script, Musica Victoria, will receive its world premiere at the Playhouse next season, although that information hasn't yet been released by the Playhouse. She is the author of The Smell of the Kill, a dark comedy that the Playhouse presented in 2003; another of her plays, String of Pearls, offering four actresses playing 27 women in 90 minutes, was staged by Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati in 2006.

Dusty and the Big Bad World by Cusi Cram is a thoughtful comedy about bigotry and attempted censorship on a public television show for kids. It’s a very even-handed treatment of the subject — distilled in a flap over a children’s show that has planned a segment about a girl whose parents are two gay men — with views from conservative to liberal all being aired amusingly and provocatively. It’s very much the kind of show that I can imagine Ensemble Theatre offering in an upcoming season.

It had a great cast, including Jeanine Serrales (photo below) as an administrative assistant to a conservative cabinet secretary in Washington, D.C. She performed at the Cincinnati Playhouse in 2005 in John Yearley’s Leap, a world premiere in the Shelterhouse Theatre.


Using local professional actors and other performers currently onstage in the productions of Inana and Dusty (plus a DCTC mainstage version of Shakespeare’s Richard III), four readings were presented:

Eventide by Cleveland playwright Eric Schmiedl, based on the novel by Kent Haruf. The script is a companion piece to a previous adaptation of another Haruf novel, Plainsong, which DCTC offered in a successful production a year ago. It’s about contemporary ranchers and lives in a small Colorado town. Several of the actors from the staging of Plainsong were involved in the reading of Eventide, so they were performing roles they’ve already lived in, making this the most effective of the readings.

When Tang Met Laika by Rogelio Martinez is about interactions between Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts in the 1990s aboard the International Space Station.

Take Me to the River by Constance Congdon uses a family drama to explore issues around water rights in Colorado that are also claimed by Kansas and Nebraska. The sprawling work taught me some things about America’s consumption of water, a topic that will surely move beyond regional concern in the future.

Flooded by Julie Marie Myatt is a fanciful piece about a TV meteorologist who becomes an oracle, predicting natural disasters around the world. (I didn't have the opportunity to see this one.)

Finally, I had the singular pleasure of watching the first step in the rebirth of a musical by Meredith Willson, best known for The Music Man. The Unsinkable Molly Brown is the story of an irrepressible woman from Missouri who takes Colorado like a storm in the early 20th century, first in a silver mining town and then in Denver; she also survives the sinking of the Titanic. The “reading” featured a cast of 18; no real scenery, but the actors did move around the stage (not dancing, however, despite the staging by renowned choreographer, director and two-time Tony Award-winner Kathleen Marshall.)

Willson’s show has been revised with additional songs he wrote for other purposes, and the book has been rewritten by Dick Scanlon, who wrote the book for the Tony Award-winning Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2002. The leading role of Molly was filled by Kerry O’Malley (recently on Broadway in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas); Mark Kudisch (who was in Scanlon’s Thoroughly Modern Millie and is scheduled to open soon in the Broadway premiere of 9 to 5) played her husband J.J. Brown. Adding special magic to the performance, Willson’s widow, Ruth, was in the audience.

I’m so glad to have discovered the Colorado New Play Summit. I’m sure I’ll return for glimpses of plays and musicals that will certainly be showing up on stages across the country in the future.