Ed Stern’s ‘Youth’

0 Comments · Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Ed Stern “retired” three years ago after two decades of artistic leadership at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. I put quotation marks around that word because he’s still busy as can be, much to the surprise of everyone — himself included.  
by Rick Pender 11.20.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 11-20 - low down dirty blues @ cincinnati playhouse - felicia p. fields connects with an audience member - photo mikki schaffner .jpg

Stage Door: Non-Holiday Holiday Shows

Several of our local theaters produce shows this time of year that are a kind of antidote to the usual fare of A Christmas Carol and other happy, merry tales. Three get under way this weekend: I went to a rockin’ party earlier this week, and you can, too — if you turn up for the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues, through Dec. 20. That’s right, a whole month of good times and sad in the intimate Shelterhouse Theater, doubling as Big Mama’s after-hours Blues bar. Every year around this time the Playhouse puts on a show as an alternate holiday choice to A Christmas Carol (which gets underway next week). This year it’s a warm-hearted good time featuring three excellent singers and a couple of very accomplished Jazz musicians (especially local Jazz pianist Steve Schmidt) performing off-color tunes, full of double-entendres and scandalous joking. The first half of the two-hour performance is mostly about lusty interaction via tunes like “Rough and Ready Man,” “I Got My Mojo Workin’ ” and “You Bring Out the Boogie in Me.” After intermission the party continues briefly (including some cute audience interaction to the tune of “I’m Not That Kind of Girl” — but then the tone darkens with passionate songs of grief (“Death Letter”), mourning (“Good Morning Heartache”) and then hope (“Change is ’Gonna Come”). Felicia P. Fields, a Broadway veteran who played a major role in the original staging of The Color Purple, anchors (and I use that word quite literally) the banter and the singing, but she is ably matched by Caron “Sugaray” Rayford, a massive force of energy, perspiration and rhythm. Chic Street Man sings and plays several guitars (especially a steel number with a gorgeous ring), and his sly, sinuous presence is a perfect complement to Fields’ and Rayford’s more ebullient performances. Don’t go if you’re offended by sexual innuendo, but if you’re looking for a “low down dirty” time, call now for a ticket: 513-421-3888 One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, As You Like It, is the first step of holiday happiness at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The story of tomfoolery and romance in the Forest of Arden kicks off tonight; it’s around until Dec. 12, when it’s followed by the tenth annual staging of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). In case you missed it, Cincy Shakes announced this week that by mid-2017 it moves to its own spectacular new space in Washington Park, the Otto M. Budig Theatre, with nearly 100 more seats than its Race Street facility. (Read my story in this week's issue for more.) Until then, you need to line up for tickets, since many of the company’s performances sell out quickly. Tickets: 513-381-2273 Another “kind of” holiday show getting started is Know Theatre’s production of All Childish Things, opening tonight and onstage through Dec. 19. In a story set right here in Cincinnati (Norwood, in fact), it’s 2006 and two guys are still yearning for the galactic adventures promised by Star Wars when they were kids. One guy lives in his mom’s basement; the other has a girlfriend who could care less about The Force. They think their big break might be residing in a warehouse full of collectible Star Wars memorabilia. Zany shows rooted in childhood have become a holiday staple at Know Theatre, and this is right up that weird, happy alley. Tickets: 513-300-5669 And if you’re really longing to get the holidays under way, you have the perfect opportunity with a tour stop by a production of White Christmas at the Aronoff (next Tuesday through Dec. 6). It’s a stage version of the popular film; the tour features stage Cincinnati and Broadway veteran Pamela Myers in a cute, outspoken role. She performs a number titled “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” a perfect summary of her illustrious career. Tickets: 513-621-2787 Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 11.06.2015 19 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Playing House

“Florala.” That’s where you are when you head down the ramp to see Know Theatre’s production of Andy’s House of [Blank]. It’s set on the state line between Florida and Alabama, but it’s recreated in two-dimensional cardboard props (telephones and ice cream cones) and decorations (comically taxidermied animals, including the backside of a dog) imaginatively designed and executed by Sarah Beth Hall. The tale is filtered through the often-divergent memories of two guys who were 16 in 1998, holding down their first jobs in roadside oddity shop and museum of “unmailed love letters.” The “guys” are Paul Strickland and Trey Tatum (truly from Florida and Alabama). They serve as the narrators — or perhaps the “recollectors” — of the oddball musical tale of Andy (Christopher Michael Richardson), the proprietor, and Sadie (Erika Kate MacDonald), the girl he had a crush on as a kid. The show was a well-received entry in Know’s “Serials” earlier this year, a story told in five 15-minute episodes. Strickland and Tatum have stitched those pieces together, and director Bridget Leak has given the piece continuity and flow. Their ebullient enthusiasm is obvious from start to finish — Tatum pounds away on an electric keyboard, Strickland (who composed the 20 or so songs) plays guitar and sings almost operatically, and Richardson and MacDonald (both with gorgeous voices) affectingly play two people caught in a looping time warp. In fact, all four characters are living out the theme repeatedly spoken and sung: “Every day is just a variation on a theme.” The music is great, and there are lots of laughs along the way, but the story is a serious, poignant rumination about love, longing and how to move forward by looking back. At two-plus hours (including an intermission) it feels a tad long, but every moment is a treat to watch. Onstage through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669 Opening this week: Anthony Schaffer’s Sleuth, a humorous but taut murder mystery is at The Carnegie in Covington. It’s a two-man show about a famous mystery writer who’s out to murder a man having an affair with his wife. There are a lot of twists and turns in this tale, so it’s fun to watch if you pay close attention. Through Nov. 14. Tickets: 859-957-1840 … Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa fascinated Cincinnati Playhouse audiences back in 2013 with his “sequel” to The Crucible, Abigail/1702. Falcon Theatre is offering two related one-acts by him, The Mystery Plays, inspired by the tradition of medieval theater that dealt with the imponderables of death, the afterlife, religion, faith and forgiveness — but from a thoroughly American perspective. In the first piece, a horror film director survives a train wreck only to be haunted by someone who didn’t make it; in the second, a woman travels to a rural Oregon town to make peace with the man who murdered her parents and her sister: He’s her older brother. Through Nov. 21 at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport. Tickets: 513-479-6783 Continuing: Cincinnati Shakespeare’s excellent production of Arthur Miller’s classic drama Death of a Salesman has its final performance on Saturday evening. It’s worth seeing, but tickets might be scarce. Tickets: 513-381-2273 … Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a compelling study of place and aging, an old man trying to forestall the sale of his family farm. It continues through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … Covedale Center’s staging of the comedy Fox on the Fairway, a tribute to cinematic farces from the 1930s and 1940s, is onstage until Nov. 15. Tickets: 513-241-6550 Tune in to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. to catch LA Theater Works’ production of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man. This show, about a young Jewish Confederate soldier marking Passover 1865 with his family’s newly freed slaves in a crumbling mansion in Richmond, Va., at the end of the Civil War, is a powerful work. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati staged this show very effectively in 2012. Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

Awash in Memory: ‘Mad River Rising’

0 Comments · Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Walk into the Marx Theatre at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for Mad River Rising and you’ll be in a different world: the hayloft of an ancient Ohio barn. (It’s an engaging design by Jeff Modereger.)   
by Rick Pender 10.30.2015 26 days ago
at 09:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door again

Stage Door: Oddities, Carnies and a Big Ole Flood

Know Theatre opens Andy’s House of [BLANK] tonight at 8 p.m. The show is the spawn of the second round of Know’s Serials, a happily creative two-month program of five 15-minute episodes. This one, a musical about a shop full of oddities and a story of love, regret and time travel, was a crowd favorite early in 2015. It struck Know’s artistic team as warranting further development, so they invited creators/storytellers Trey Tatum and Paul Strickland to turn it into a full-fledged work. As in Serials, it’s staged by director Bridget Leak. It’s being produced in Know’s Underground Bar, cleverly transmuted into the interior of Andy’s oddity shop with a set drawn on cardboard. Strickland (who’s also a singer and songwriter) has created a bunch of musical numbers; he and playwright Tatum are in the show, as if they were teens working at Andy’s back in the day and now retelling what went on. Read my Curtain Call column here to learn more. It’s happening through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669.Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, with a short run at UC’s College-Conservatory of music this weekend, is a classic from the Golden Age of Broadway musicals. It’s a darker story than you might expect from Rodgers and Hammerstein: Billy Bigelow, a good-looking bad boy who runs the merry-go-round at the carnival is love-’em-and-leave-’em kind of guy until he meets Julie Jordan. He tries to live a better life once they’re married and she’s pregnant, but it’s not really his thing. He dies after a bungled robbery and then has a chance to come back and make things right with his teenage daughter. There’ a lot of great music in this show — “If I Loved You” is one of several classic numbers — and with faculty member Diane Lala staging it (and choreographing it, too), it’s sure to be extremely watchable. Final performance is the Sunday matinee. Tickets: 513-556-4183.Floodwaters are threatening life and limb in the past and the present at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park where Dana Yeaton’s Mad River Rising is on the big stage. Set in an abandoned barn, it’s the story of Angus Stewart (played with dry humor and stubborn attitudes by 82-year-old actor Robert Hogan) who witnessed a devastating flood in 1937 that all but destroyed his family’s farm. In old age he’s trying to stave off waves of newfangled innovation and life choices that have abandoned the traditional values of farming and owning land. Hogan is a fine performer, and the story has intriguing moments as he tangles with family members trying to accommodate him, help him or navigate around him. It’s a fine portrait of the challenges of aging. Here’s a to my CityBeat review. It’s onstage through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3888.Elsewhere: Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati finishes its run of the very funny one-man show Buyer and Cellar, about an actor hired to manage a faux shopping mall in the basement of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate. (CityBeat review here.) Actor Nick Cearley turns in winning performances as the actor, as Streisand and a handful of others as he retells the ups-and-downs of “selling” to one tough customer. The run ends on Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3555. … Cincinnati Shakespeare’s fine production of the prize-winning American drama Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller continues through Nov. 7. (CityBeat review here.) One of our region’s great professional actors, Bruce Cromer, turns in a heart-rending performance as Willy Loman, whose aspirations have come to a grinding halt; Annie Fitzpatrick’s powerful portrait of Willy’s devoted, weary wife Linda makes the sad story all the more compelling. Tickets: 513-381-2273. … Covedale Center is presenting a frothy farce by Ken Ludwig in the tradition of Marx Brothers’ comedies. Fox on the Fairway is a madcap story set at a private country club. Onstage through Nov. 15. Tickets: 513-241-6550.One more thing: Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is presenting a series of behind-the-scenes events that will enhance your appreciation of how theater productions are put together. This month’s Caffeinated Conversation on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. explores how ETC’s season is put together, how local actors are found and what it’s like to direct plays and musicals that deal with mental illness, economic disparity and racial tension. One of Cincinnati’s most admired directors, D. Lynn Meyers, will speak and answer questions. Tickets ($15): 513-421-3555.Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

Mad River Rising (Review)

0 Comments · Monday, October 26, 2015
Walk into the Marx Theatre at the Cincinnati Playhouse for Mad River Rising and you’ll be in a different world, the hayloft of an ancient Ohio barn.   

‘Secret Garden’ at Cincinnati Playhouse: Gorgeous But Complicated

0 Comments · Friday, September 11, 2015
For more than a century, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden has charmed young readers. It’s not what you might expect relative to today’s “young adult” fiction...  

Theater League Gets Its Act Together

0 Comments · Wednesday, July 8, 2015
The League of Cincinnati Theatres was established in 1999 to strengthen, nurture and promote local theater companies.    

Durang's Comedy Has a Warm Heart Surrounded by Laughs

0 Comments · Monday, May 4, 2015
Until Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Christopher Durang’s plays haven’t moved me. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed his sarcastic, often cynical works...  
by Rick Pender 04.10.2015
Posted In: Theater at 08:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 4-10 - 110 in the shade @ ccm - (l-r) ben biggers, john battagliese & brianna barnes - photo adam zeek copy

Stage Door: The Heat Is on at CCM ... And All Over Town

There's a ton of theater opening up this weekend, something for just about every taste. But if you're looking for something free, I have a special recommendation: It's 110 in the Shade at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. This is a production in the Cohen Family Studio Theater (an intimate black box venue that seats about 150). The production is in the "Musical Redux" series, bringing back a show that's not often produced. 110 dates back to 1963. It's the story of Lizzie Curry, on her way to being an "old maid," who lives with her dad and her brothers. A charming con man shows up posing as a rainmaker and promises relief to drought-stricken farmers. Is he for real? Lizzie has her doubts, but he works hard to win her over. CCM Studio productions are free, but reservations are required (513-556-4183), and performances are often filled up. This one is likely to be a lot of fun; it's this weekend only, final performance at 8 p.m. Saturday.I gave Cincinnati Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew a Critic's Pick in my CityBeat review here. It's lusty and lewd, and the battle of the sexes has never been fought in a more entertaining way. Two of the company's veteran actors, Nick Rose and Kelly Mengelkoch, play Petruchio and Katherine, and they mix it up with with and humor. Definitely an entertaining evening. Tickets: 513-381-2273.A week ago I had a chance to see one of the Cincinnati Playhouse's current touring productions (this one is aimed at kids in grades K-3), Bird Brain. It's funny fable that teaches a lesson that strange behavior isn't always foolish. More info here. This weekend it will be presented at Springfield Townships Grove Banquet Hall (Friday at 7 p.m.), The Drama Workshop at Glenmore Playhouse in Cheviot (Saturday at 2 p.m.), the Blue Ash Recreation Center (Saturday at 7 p.m.) and The Lebanon Theatre Company (Sunday at 1 and 3 p.m.). Admission is usually free (or very inexpensive). Grab a kid and go.Other productions opening this weekend: Steve Martin's very funny farce,The Underpants, kicks off a three weekend run at the Carnegie in Covington. New Edgecliff Theatre, still not in its new permanent home in Northside, is staging David Mamet's piercing drama, Race, at the Hoffner Lodge (4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside). At Falcon Theatre (636 Monmouth St., Newport) you can catch the first weekend of The Cover of Life, a drama about three young women married to brothers from the same small town who have gone off to fight in World War II. Meanwhile, in Bellevue, Ky., at St. John United Church of Christ, you can see a production of Joanna Murray-Smith's Honour by WIT-Women in Theatre. The story of three women propelled to ask the question "What is love?" when they've been struggling with tough relationships, is onstage for two weekends. Children's Theatre kicks off two weekends of public performances of Disney's Aladdin JR. at the Taft Theatre. It's a stage version of the popular animated musical feature; the production includes jugglers, acrobats and stilt walkers. And Lion King continues its month-long run at the Aronoff. (CityBeat review here.)Don't forget that Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. is another quarterly offering from the True Theatre guys at Know Theatre. The theme this time is "true beauty," with real monologues by people who talk about things they've really experienced.Something for everyone, as they say!Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.