by Rick Pender
14 days ago
Posted In: Theater
at 02:12 PM | Permalink
There are so many good choices for theater right now you
could hardly go wrong anywhere, but there are three shows you should
The musical Violet at Ensemble Theatre
Cincinnati is the story of an angry, self-conscious young woman who
believes her life is a dead end because of a disfiguring facial scar.
She travels from North Carolina to a televangelist in Oklahoma in hopes
of a miracle, which does happen — kind of, but certainly not in the way
she imagined. This is a moving story with great music, and it’s superbly
performed, especially by Brooke Steele as the title character: Putting
together an excellent vocal performance with fully committed acting, she
delivers an aching, anxious performance that occasionally flashes with
joy. She’s surrounded by more talent, several of whom take on multiple
roles. This is the kind of show that makes you grateful that we have a
theater like ETC and a director like Lynn Meyers. (CityBeat review here.) Through May 22.
Violet is searching for beauty, while Haley, the solo character in Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates,
is just looking for a good evening out. But she’s having a hard time
finding the right man — not to mention the right shoes to wear. The
Cincinnati Playhouse produced this show a dozen years ago and it was a
big hit. With Vivia Font as the charming narrator, a sweet but
uninhibited girl-next-door who carries it off like she’s chatting with
girlfriends, this production is a surefire hit. (CityBeat review here.) Through June 12.
Another big search us underway at the Aronoff Center’s
Jarson-Kaplan Theater where Cincinnati Music Theatre is presenting the
musical Big Fish, based on a Tim Burton film from 2003
featuring Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor and Billy Crudup. It’s the story
of Edward Bloom (Fred Tacon, pulling off a role handled by two actors in
the movie) who loves to embroider and exaggerate the events of his
life, and Will (PJ Karpew, a powerful singer), his down-to-earth son who
loved his dad’s tall tales as a kid. But as a grownup, he’s grown both
weary and dubious of these apparent fantasies and insists on discovering
the truth. Ed’s imagined adventures are brought to amusing life onstage
in this production, and CMT’s cast, steered by community theater
veteran Skip Fenker, is busy from start to finish with countless costume
changes, dance routines and funny situations. (There’s some clever use
of video, too.) Will learns some truth he never expected, discovering
that his father was indeed a hero — even if it wasn’t in the stories he
made up. The show’s messages of love and inspiration come through loud
and clear. Through Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Also worth your consideration: Opening tonight are Antony and Cleopatra (Cincinnati Shakespeare, through June 4) and Catch Me If You Can: The Musical (Showbiz Players at the Carnegie in Covington, through May 22). You still have time to see Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing at the Cincinnati Playhouse and the touring production of Cabaret at the Aronoff Center, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati. Both continue through next weekend. Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
Covington’s reorganized, refocused and rebranded interdisciplinary arts center is better than ever
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Just a few years ago, The Carnegie was desperate for an executive director like Katie Brass to help reorganize and advocate; she and everyone else who loved The Carnegie had to learn to better tell its story.
Theater season starts now
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Shows that open seasons for local theater
companies carry added freight: They tell theatergoers, “This is what to
expect from us.”
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:21 AM | Permalink
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.
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.
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
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:12 AM | Permalink
There's ample evidence at the Cincinnati Playhouse as to why David Ives' Tony-nominated play Venus in Fur
is the most produced script in America this season. I saw the opening
performance last evening, and it's an entertaining attention-grabber.
Inspired by an erotic Victorian novel, it's the story of a playwright
who's adapted it for the stage but despairing of finding the right
actress — until Vanda appears. Despite the initial impression she makes,
she proves to be almost too good to be true. Greta Wohlrabe is a marvel
in this role, flipping between being an ambitious, over-enthused
wannabe and a commanding, demanding, sophisticated paramour who knows
the character she wants to play and how to get what she wants. It's sexy
and funny — and a great evening for grown-ups. Through May 17. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.
Want to try something new this weekend? A new theater company, Women in Theatre (WIT) is staging Joe Calarco's Walter Cronkite Is Dead
at St. John United Church of Christ in Bellevue, Ky. Two women stuck in
an airport together end up sharing a table: One, from Washington, D.C.,
is reserved and educated, yearning for peace and quiet; the other is a
chatty Southerner who can't stop talking. Their conversation, according to
the show's publicity, is "funny, difficult, deeply revealing and
astonishingly frank." Through May 3. Tickets: 859-441-6882.
Stacy Sims, my CityBeat colleague, thought that New Edgecliff Theatre's production of Other People's Money was
pretty good. (CityBeat review here.) Jerry Sterner's 1989 play remains timely, the story of a
rapacious business guy who stands to destroy a small town when he buys a
company that is pretty much the sole livelihood of the residents of a
small Rhode Island town. Stacy called the show "good entertainment" and
added, "it just might provoke you to consider whom you are listening to
today." It's onstage at the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater through Saturday evening.
Stacy liked Know Theatre's production of The Twentieth-Century Way enough to give it a Critic's Pick in her CityBeat
review here. It's two actors playing two actors in 1914 who are hired to
play gay men in Long Beach and entrap "social vagrants" — that is, gay
men. It's a multi-leveled script, playing with concepts of what's real
and what's "enacted." Heady but fascinating, and it features two
excellent actors, Jens Rasmussen and Michael McKeough. You won't be
bored if you go to see this one. Through May 3. Tickets ($15 in advance; $20 at the door): 513-300-5669.
Two productions that will appeal to audiences who like old-fashioned theater remain onstage. With its final performance on Sunday, Mary Chase's gentle comedy, Harvey,
at the Carnegie in Covington, is about Elwood, a guy who's a little
off-kilter — who sees a six-foot-tall white rabbit that no one else
believes is real (except the audience). Tickets ($17-$24); 859-957-1940. The classic musical Gypsy — full of great show tunes — continues at the Covedale through May 4;
it's about Rose, the pushy stage mother who launched her rather
unwilling daughter into a burlesque career as Gypsy Rose Lee. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:17 AM | Permalink
If you follow music coverage in CityBeat (hey, isn't that really why you pick up the paper?), you're certainly aware of Green Day's 2004 recording American Idiot.
But since you're reading my weekend theater previews, you must be
interested in other kinds of performance, so here's a tip: For two nights
only, Green Day's American Idiot, a stage version of the powerful Punk score, will be onstage at the Aronoff. That's right — Friday and Saturday
only, just three performances, much shorter that Broadway in
Cincinnati's two-week presentation of touring Broadway musicals. I can
vouch for this one, since I saw it a year ago during a similar tour stop
in Dayton. It's the story of three disaffected guys who take different downward
spirals when confronted with the numbing boredom of everyday life —
"alien nation" — as they sing in the opening number. The recording was
conceived as a "Punk Rock Opera" and turned into a Tony Award-nominated
Broadway show in 2010, with a lot of involvement by Green Day's lead
singer Billie Joe Armstrong (who actually appeared onstage in New York
at various performances; that's not happening here in Cincinnati).
There's a day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of $25
tickets; you need to show up two-and-a-half hours before the performance
you're hoping to see (8 p.m. Friday, and 5 and 8 p.m. on Saturday)
with a valid photo ID. Complete an entry form and wait 30 minutes to
find out if you're a winner. If you prefer to just go ahead and buy your
seats ($38-$91), you can call the Aronoff box office: 513-621-2787.
In the classic musical Gypsy,
Rose has very concrete ideas regarding how to turn her daughters into
stars (long before Green Day was punking out, to be sure): Back in the
1920s and ’30s she pushed her kids onto vaudeville stages whether they
liked it or not. Things never went quite as she imagined, which was
really a desire for her own fame and stardom. It's one of the great
musicals, and the role of Rose has been compared to King Lear. That
might be a bit of a stretch, but she's a tragic character who's
fascinating to watch. There's a ton of great music, composed by Jule
Styne with lyrics by a very young Stephen Sondheim and lots of humor
along the way, especially the hilarious number by three strippers, "You
Gotta Get a Gimmick." Cincinnati Landmark opened its production Thursday
night, and it will be onstage at the Covedale Center for the Performing
Arts through May 4. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.
Mary Chase's comedy Harvey
won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize and had a four-year Broadway run (1,800
performances). The story of Elwood P. Dowd and his invisible friend, a 6-foot tall rabbit named Harvey, is perhaps best known for the 1950
movie featuring Jimmy Stewart in an Oscar-nominated performance. That's
all well and good, but it's a show that audiences love to see live and
in-person, and you can do just that at Covington's Carnegie for the next
three weekends (tonight through April 27).
It's directed by Buz Davis, who produced shows at the Carnegie when it
was a dilapidated wreck back in the ’80s and ’90s. Now he's returning to
stage Harvey in the beautifully renovated Otto M. Budig Theatre.
(Tickets ($17-$24): 859-957-1940.) Davis has assembled a strong cast for this family-friendly comedy, you
can catch a few of them in this charming promotional video:Still onstage are several recommended productions: The Mountaintop at Ensemble Theatre (final extended performance is Saturday evening; 513-421-3555); A Delicate Ship at the Cincinnati Playhouse (through April 20; 513-421-3888; CityBeat review here); and The Twentieth-Century Way at Know Theatre (through May 3; CityBeat review here.) And if Monday comes and you want still more: Check out True Theatre's next installment — True Dating (7:30 p.m.
at Know Theatre). This round of monologues of real experiences will
feature stories of dating that led to true love, and some that went off
the tracks along the way. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669.
Beauty stylists primp for another "Art of" blockbuster
0 Comments · Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Is The Art of Hair a quiet beauty compared with the hungry
beast that is the Carnegie Center’s highly anticipated annual show The Art of Food? Nope. It’s a monster, too.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:23 AM | Permalink
A few good local
productions are winding up this weekend. On Labor Day weekend, you won't
find much onstage. But you have a couple of decent choices right now to
tide you over.
At the top of my list would be Chicago
at the Carnegie (CityBeat review here). It's a classic musical by Kander & Ebb, getting an
excellent staging — great performances (by some solid professionals
with Broadway experience as well as rising talent from universities
around the Tristate), great choreography (Bob Fosse's iconic style has
been updated in some very imaginative ways) and really hot orchestral
accompaniment (the musicians would be worth listening to on their own!)
It all adds up to some fabulous razzle-dazzle. Final performance is Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets ($19-$26): 859-957-1940.
Know Theatre wraps up its run of Lauren Gunderson's very contemporary comedy, Toil and Trouble, which has echoes of Shakespeare's Macbeth from start to finish (CityBeat review here). Inspired by messages from fortune cookies (in place of Macbeth's
witches) A couple of slackers and their aggressive sportscaster
girlfriend concoct a crazy scheme to grab power and wealth. Of course,
it goes wildly wrong, with a lot of laughs along the way. Final
performance is Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets ($20): 513-300-5669
And if you're a Woody Allen fan, you might want to board the Showboat Majestic at the Public Landing for Don't Drink the Water,
a play he wrote in 1966 that had a two-year run on Broadway. Set inside
an American embassy behind the Iron Curtain, the show features lots of
Allen's hallmarks: farcical situations, loopy characters and a high dose
of humor. Final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets ($19-$20): 513-241-6550
The current issue of CityBeat includes previews of the fall arts season. It's online here, including my suggestions about shows from local theaters here.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:18 AM | Permalink
Summer is flying by, or so it seems. This is the final weekend for you to see Cincinnati Shakespeare's production of The 39 Steps (CityBeat review here),
a satiric adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1935 film of
espionage and intrigue. Making it all the more amusing is the fact that
the story is performed by four actors, two of whom play most of the
citizens of London and beyond, using a lot of quick changes and quick
thinking. It's a very entertaining evening of tomfoolery, featuring four
of Cincy Shakes' most talented comedic actors. Your last chances to see
the show are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. 513-381-2273.Another entertaining production is Lauren Gunderson's very new play, Toil and Trouble (CityBeat review here),
at Know Theatre. It's a comedy about contemporary slackers trying to
make a quick buck that's got a very Shakespearean ring to it — Macbeth,
to be precise. The humor presses a bit too hard at moments, but if you
go to have a good time, you'll definitely find one. Instead of warriors
and kings vying for the throne, this one focuses on 30-year-olds trying
to strike it rich without working too hard — but the echoes of the
Elizabethan tragedy can't be missed. There's a steady stream of sports
talk, too, making comparisons between baseball and life. It's a strange
brew, but plenty of laughs. Through Aug. 24. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
are always popular, but for some reason they seem especially attractive
fare in the summer months. So we can say thanks to the Carnegie in
Covington for serving up a tasty one, Kander and Ebb's Chicago,
an all-time Broadway favorite. This production — the sexy, salacious
tale of murderous women in Chicago in the 1920s — features choreography
by Broadway veteran and Cincinnati native David Baum in his local
professional debut. Word has it that he's put together some of the most
inventive choreography seen on local stages in a long time. The
production opens on Saturday evening (7:30 p.m.) and repeats on Sunday (3 p.m.). It continues for two more weekends, through Aug. 25. 859-957-1940.
Also onstage this weekend (and running through Aug. 25) is Woody Allen's hit Broadway comedy, Don't Drink the Water.
Amusingly, it's on board the Showboat Majestic (where you definitely
don't want to drink the water) — but it's a humorous tale of tourists
caught in an American embassy behind the Iron Curtain. Lightweight
entertainment, but a lot of fun. 513-241-6550.
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Several slots for the 2013-2014 season
have been filled in by local theaters as the current season finishes.