by Rick Pender 10.30.2015 32 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.

Doing It for Love in ‘A Chorus Line’

0 Comments · Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Let me admit right up front that I’m a total sucker when it comes to A Chorus Line. No matter how many times I’ve seen it (quite a few over the past four decades since it opened on Broadway in 1975), there are still moments that grab at my heartstrings and bring tears to my eyes.   
by Rick Pender 05.01.2015
Posted In: Theater at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
vanya and sonia and masha and spike - cincinnati playhouse - john feltch, elizabeth hess and suzanne grodner - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Durang and One Dang Funny Dysfunctional Family

Christopher Durang's witty comedy Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike opened last night at the Cincinnati Playhouse. If that title makes you think of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, well, that's part of the playwright's comic plan. But his script reassembles some of those wry comic elements with a few modern twists. The three characters with Chekhovian names are siblings with wildly divergent perspectives; "Spike" stirs things up by being more physical than intellectual. You don't have to know any theater history to have a good time with this play, especially when Vanya launches into a 10-minute rant about what's wrong with the modern world — referencing everything from postage stamps and technology to global warming and a lot of TV from the 1950s. It's hilarious. This show is being staged at theaters all over America this season. For more about Durang, read my Curtain Call column. Through May 23. Tickets: 513-421-3888The Covedale Center has carved our a meaningful niche in the local theater scene with staging Golden Age musicals, and they're opening one of the best this weekend, Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. It was the final show by the pair who created Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel and The King and I. Thanks to the movie featuring Julie Andrews, I don't really have to tell you what it's about. But I should mention that the stage version has a bit more of a socio-political edge to it: Two of my favorite numbers (that didn't make it into the film) are "No Way to Stop It" and "How Can Love Survive?" — pay attention to them for some sassy songwriting. The show is onstage at the West Side theater through May 24; tickets: 513-241-6550Several worthwhile productions are finishing their runs this weekend with Sunday performances. That includes the searing psychological and political drama Death and the Maiden by Diogenes Theatre Company, featuring Annie Fitzpatrick, Michael G. Bath and Giles Davies at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Tickets: 513-621-2787 … Cincinnati Shakespeare is winding up its staging of the great comedy of love and combat, The Taming of the Shrew. (Read my review here). Tickets: 513-381-2273 … And if you've ever struggled to connect with a play by the Bard, you might enjoy John Murrell's Taking Shakespeare at Dayton's Human Race Theater Company. The latter is about a disillusioned college professor asked to tutor her dean's son through a freshman class in Shakespeare. The subject is Othello, and their wrangling helps them learn more about one another. It's some fine acting, with Jon Kovach, seen frequently on Cincinnati stages, as the opinionated but drifting young man. Tickets: 937-228-3630Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

The Marvelous Wonderettes (Review)

It's their party

0 Comments · Monday, March 16, 2015
When I attended the Covedale Center’s production of The Marvelous Wonderettes at a Sunday matinee, there were no young people in attendance.   
by Rick Pender 03.13.2015
at 09:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 3-13 - peter & the starcatcher @ cincinnati playhouse - black stache (tom story) threatens peter (noah zachary) - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Not Parrots — It's Pirates!

I seldom laugh out loud when I'm watching a comedy, but I found myself doing just that more than once at last night's opening of Peter and the Starcatcher at the Cincinnati Playhouse. You can read about this show and the appeal of Peter Pan here, but let me simply say this is a deliriously silly but wholly heartfelt prequel about the origins of the boy who "won't grow up." This award-winning play uses simple theatrics, not special effects, to work its magic, and the Playhouse cast of a dozen quick-change performers dive into the wacky storytelling with zest and zeal. Everyone is having a good time, perhaps Tom Story most of all, playing "Black Stache" (the pirate who will become Captain Hook) who spews malapropisms and extravagant posturing: "There's a poet in these pirate veins," he announces. The laugh-inducing moment that sets up his subsequent need for a hook is both ghastly and breathlessly funny, not to mention milked for all it's worth. Everyone in the cast has moments of fun. This is imaginative storytelling and extravagant theatricality at its best. You'll have fun if you bring a kid or two; but even if you don't, go by yourself and feel like a kid again. Through April 4. Tickets: 513-421-3888.A show that's stuck with me since last June's Fringe Festival, Katie Hartman’s ghostly and mournful song cycle, The Legend of White Woman Creek, is back for a pair of performances at Know Theatre tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. It's the tale of Anna Morgan Faber, a white woman captured then slowly absorbed into the Cheyenne tribe in 1860s Kansas. Hartman sings about a desperate, lonely woman who finally finds happiness only to have it it brutally snatched away. “It’s not a stand-up-and-cheer kind of show,” I wrote in my review. Instead, “it’s artfully crafted and professionally delivered in an understated way. But it is powerfully effective.” Tickets: 513-300-5669.Elsewhere you can catch Covedale Center's production of The Marvelous Wonderettes, the story of four high school girls in the ’50s and ’60s who get their big break singing Doo-Wop tunes. This show kicked off a string of hits for Ensemble Theatre a few years back, and I imagine the Covedale's audience will love it, too. Tickets: 513-241-6550.If Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is a book you've treasured over the years, you can see a stage adaptation at Cincinnati Shakespeare through March 21 (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-381-2273) or a musical theater version by Footlighters, the community theater that performs at Newport's Stained Glass Theater (tickets: 859-652-3849).This is the final weekend for August: Osage County at Clifton Performance Theatre. It's a big sprawling play wedged into a tiny space, but with a great script and a fine cast, it's definitely worth seeing. You'll be close enough to feel like a member of the dysfunctional Weston family. I gave it a Critic's Pick here. Tickets: 513-861-7469.I missed the first two installments of Serials 2: Thunderdome! at Know Theatre, but I was there on March 2, and I'll be back on Monday evening to see which of five 15-minute segments gets to live on. I'm looking forward to Josh Bromels' So In Tents (there's a pun in there) and Trey Tatum and Paul Strickland's Andy's House of [blank], a wild, time-shifting musical. But there will be more surprises, I'm sure. It's a breath of fresh creative air. Tickets: 513-300-5669Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday.

Greater Tuna (Review)

Covedale’s trip to Tuna is irreverent fun

0 Comments · Monday, January 26, 2015
Tuna, Texas, once a real-live speck of a town, had been written off state maps for decades. That changed in 1981 when Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard penned Greater Tuna, the first of four comedic plays focusing on the quirky, small-town conservatism of Tuna.   
by Rick Pender 01.23.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
cast of ring of fire_ photo sandy underwood 2

Stage Door: Theater Abounds This Weekend

I attended the opening of Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Musical at the Cincinnati Playhouse last evening. The show offers some sense of the great Country music singer's life, but it's not detailed in the way Rosemary Clooney was portrayed in the Playhouse's recent production. Instead, it's Cash's music that's front and center, performed by a half-dozen veteran musicians and four singer/actors, two men and two women, all of whom convey the sincerity and strength that were his calling card. Jason Edwards and Derek Keeling have voices reminiscent of the"Man in Black," the former in maturity and the latter as brash young man. Trenna Barnes and Allison Briner round out the quartet, sometimes conjuring the persona of June Carter, Cash's talented wife. Both are great singers, but Barnes is especially powerful and entertaining as a young spitfire in numbers like "Cry, Cry, Cry." The show features more than 30 numbers, some familiar, several sung amusingly by the musicians, and all engaging. Especially fun is "I've Been Everywhere," the second act opener that has all 10 performers singing, playing guitars and accelerating through a list of cities where Cash toured. Read more about the show in my interview (CityBeat interview here) with Edwards, who is also the show's director. Box office: 513-421-3888.Speaking of the Playhouse, I should also mention that this weekend kicks off performances of Theory of Mind, the story of a teenager on the autism spectrum. It's about his first date with a young woman unsure of her own reasons for romance. Ken LaZebnik's play, created for young people who are 11 or older, premiered at the Playhouse in 2009 and was successful with kids and adults. This weekend it will show up at Prospect House in Price Hill on Friday at 7 p.m., at the Hyde Park Health Center on Saturday at 2 p.m. and at the Dunham Recreation Center in Price Hill on Saturday at 7 p.m. Some performances are free. For more details and a schedule of locations and dates (through Feb. 22), go to www.cincyplay.com.You shouldn't miss Waiting for Godot at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (through Feb. 7). The production features excellent acting by Bruce Cromer (if you've seen A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse, you know him as Ebenezer Scrooge) and Cincy Shakes stalwart Nick Rose. Playing a pair of sad-sack hobos waiting for someone who never shows up, they capture the desperation of human existence in Samuel Beckett's masterpiece of theater of the absurd. I gave the show a Critic's Pick. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets: 513-381-2273. Two other productions kick off this weekend — the very funny Greater Tuna at the Covedale Center, through Feb. 15 (513-241-6550) in which two actors play many of the people in the "third smallest town in Texas," and the very serious Handmaid's Tale at Know Theatre, through Feb. 21 (513-300-5669). The latter, a one-woman adaptation of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, features Cincy Shakes regular Corinne Mohlenhoff. I interviewed playwright Joe Stollenwerk in my Curtain Call (review here) column in CityBeat. At Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow Avenue Friday through Sunday only, you'll find a free show about coping with mental illness, She's Crazy, Mental Health and Other Myths features two local actresses, Sherry McCamley and Cathy Springfield, who developed this cabaret show that uses original songs and personal stories to reduce the stigma of mental health. Space is limited, so you are urged to call for reservations: 513-861-7469.Not for this weekend, but coming soon, you can get some bargains on tickets at Ensemble Theatre (where The Other Place opens next Wednesday). If you've never purchased tickets to ETC, you can score two $10 tickets during the first two weeks of each of its next three productions. A few restrictions apply, but it's a perfect opportunity to check out this excellent theater company if you've not been there. ETC is quick to point out that it's located in the Over-the-Rhine, where there are restaurants and events galore and easy parking in nearby garages. Box office: 513-421-3555.Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings (Review)

'Plaid' for the holidays

0 Comments · Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Plaid Tidings gets my nomination as the season’s most entertaining live onstage holiday show.  

Into the Woods (Review)

Covedale’s Into the Woods is hopeful, if not happy ever after

0 Comments · Friday, October 31, 2014
If you’re excited by the imminent arrival (Dec. 25) of a movie version of Into the Woods, you can get ready for the experience by catching a performance of the show at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts.  
by Rick Pender 10.31.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.