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Love List 2016: D. Lynn Meyers

0 Comments · Wednesday, February 10, 2016
A job at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the 1980s laid the foundation for an impressive theatrical career, directing plays and casting movies. In 1995, Ensemble Theatre turned to her at a dark moment when it seemed to be on the brink of closing.  

Onstage: Grounded

0 Comments · Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s 30th-anniversary season continues with an intense one-woman story told through the eyes of a fierce fighter pilot whose pregnancy “grounds” her.  

Check Out the Theater Pipeline: Choices for 2016

0 Comments · Wednesday, December 30, 2015
If you were captivated by Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s hit (and revived) production of next to normal in 2011-2012, then you should consider catching the newest show from the Pulitzer Prize-winning team of composer Tom Kitt and writer Brian Yorkey.   

Shows You Should Have Seen in 2015, Plus New and Expanding Theaters

0 Comments · Wednesday, December 23, 2015
If you went to see theater locally during 2015, you had a lot to choose from. Here are the shows that I particularly admired and some of the reasons why.   
by Rick Pender 12.04.2015 71 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 12-4 - cast of rent at incline - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door

A fairytale, a ghost story and lots of musicals for the holidays

December is full of shows for your holiday viewing pleasure:  Every five years or so, Ensemble Theatre rolls out a new production of its holiday rendition of Cinderella. This one just opened on Wednesday, and while it’s the same material that was presented in 2005 and 2010, it’s been freshened with a new set and colorful costumes — and especially a vibrant cast with great voices for the tunes with lyrics by David Kisor and melodies by Fitz Patton. Brooke Steele is picture-perfect as the golly-gee title character who prefers reading to going to a ball. But Kate Wilford as “Gwendolyn the Well Wisher” (“I give good advice and then wish you well,” she tells everyone with a sweep of her hand to musical accompaniment) encourages her to go so she can meet Prince Frederick (Warren Bryson), who happens to be another bookworm. They’re a lovely couple who overcome the modest barriers thrown their way (she loses a pink sneaker that helps him locate her later), but the show’s real energy comes from Sara Mackie and Torie Wiggins as Cinderella’s crass stepsisters. They’re loudmouthed losers, spewing malapropisms and ridiculous self-aggrandizement (Wiggins’ Clarissa bellows competitively, “My patheticism outshines all others”) — constantly mugging and fawning and arguing. Deb G. Girdler as their manipulative mother Brunhilda is also great fun to watch as she tries to control events to her own advantage. As is always the case with ETC’s holiday musicals with scripts by local playwright Joe McDonough, there’s a timely moral: “The essence of true beauty lies … beyond what’s seen by normal eyes.” Oh, Cinderella and Frederick wear glasses — but they see love pretty clearly. Through Jan. 3. Tickets: 513-421-3555 I’ve been attending A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse for 25 years, as long as they have produced it. The script — Howard Dallin excellent adaptation of Dickens’ classic story — is top-notch and doesn’t need to be tinkered, but with actors coming and going, it’s always fun to see how things shake out from one year to the next. Greg Procaccino is the only actor to be in the show every year, playing Marley’s regretful ghost and slimy junk buyer Old Joe; the always-watchable Bruce Cromer holds the longevity record playing Scrooge (11 years, after 8 as Bob Cratchit). Kathleen Wise brings a light, bemused touch to Christmas Past in her first year; returning performers include Ryan Gilreath as nervous, angular Cratchit and Kelly Mengelkoch as the patient, loving Mrs. Cratchit, as well as Douglas Rees as the ebullient Fezziwig and Annie Fitzpatrick as his playful wife. There’s a new Tiny Tim for 2015, Henry Charles Weghorst, the tiniest ever, I believe (he needs two pillows to sit at the dining table), and truly adorable. This Playhouse production continues to be a joy to watch, a glorious, glittering set and costumes that deliver you to the mid-19th century. Pay attention to the David Smith’s sound design and recorded music, which set the emotional tone for virtually every scene. A Christmas Carol is a welcome Cincinnati holiday tradition. Through Dec. 30. Tickets 513-421-3888 Cincinnati Landmark Productions is offering shows at both of its venues this month; neither is holiday per se, although the musical Rent (at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre in Price Hill through Dec. 20) begins and ends with Christmas, celebrating a year of the “seasons of love” experienced by a clutch of impoverished young artists in New York’s East Village. This is a high-quality production, a great choice for fans of contemporary Rock music. Rent is almost 20 years old, but it has stood the test of time, especially as performed by the Incline’s committed, diverse cast of excellent, energetic singers. Tyler Kuhlman as the depressed guitarist Roger has the looks and the vocal chops for the role, and Lisa Glover is a fine match as Mimi, the sexy club dancer and drug addict who makes a lot of bad choices. Kelcey Steele provides the necessary connective tissue as videographer Mark, and RJ Caldwell ably portrays Tom Collins, an anarchist professor and street activist with AIDS. But the production’s most memorable performances come from Aiden Sims as Maureen, the brassy performance artist, and especially charismatic Christopher Carter as the transgender drag queen Angel: His high-flying rendition of “Today 4 U” is a show-stopper. The ensemble shines when presenting of Rent’s iconic numbers, particularly “La Vie Bohème and “Seasons of Love.” This production is a bold choice for the new venue, seeking audiences in search of more ambitious, adult fare — there were empty seats on opening night. Rent offers strong evidence that the Incline is up to the challenge. I give this one a Critic’s Pick. … I was part of a very full house for Mary Poppins last Sunday (at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, also finished on Dec. 20); this production is clearly intended as holiday fare for families. I wish it were a bit more joyous. Mary (Alyssa Hostetler, who’s a fine singer) is a rather starchy character who’s not very loveable. The uptight Banks family she convinces to reconnect and have fun has an initially irritable dad (Dave Wilson, another excellent voice) and a mom who’s a budding feminist (Sarah Viola, who sings very well, too) — these aren’t characters that children can instantly love. Even the two Banks kids (Lili Shires and Peter Godsey, who work hard at being coy) are kind of obnoxious. The production felt long, with numerous labored scene changes. On the other hand, the audience had a great time — the songs (familiar from the 1964 movie) are beloved, and everyone seems to know them. That’s fun. Tickets: 513-241-6550 The touring production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas wraps up its engagement on Sunday. It’s a fine cast of singers and dancers, a production full of familiar tunes that’s worth seeing if you have the scratch for seats at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: 513-621-2787 If you prefer something not holiday-oriented, Xavier University’s theater program is staging Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth. It’s a three-character play from the 1990s (set in the early 1980s) about young people struggling with the transition to adulthood. Guest director Ed Stern, the Playhouse’s retired artistic director, told me it was a great opportunity to work with actors who are exactly the right age to play these roles. Read more from Stern in my recent Curtain Call column. Performances are this weekend only, including a Sunday matinee. Xavier Box Office: 513-745-3939 Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 10.30.2015 106 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.
 
 

Old and New, Tragic and Comic

0 Comments · Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Theater can take you to so many places, and two shows that opened last week demonstrate the possible range — a classic modern tragedy at Cincinnati Shakespeare and a contemporary comedy at Ensemble Theatre. Take your pick — they’re both winners.  

Onstage: Luna Gale

0 Comments · Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Ensemble Theatre doesn’t pull any punches with the opener for its 30th season.  
by Rick Pender 01.30.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
etc the other place - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door: Women in Distress on Local Stages This Weekend

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati continues its hot streak of well-cast and engaging scripts with Sharr White's The Other Place, the story of a brilliant but abrasive woman who is losing her grip. Regina Pugh is excellent in this moving and sometimes funny production, ably supported by Michael G. Bath as her perplexed husband, and with two performers usually seen at Cincinnati Shakespeare, Kelly Mengelkoch and Billy Chace, in an array of supporting roles. This is a drama that keeps you guessing as to what's the truth behind the story that's unfolding. When it all comes together, the revelation is devastating. Definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3555.Another powerful piece of theater is onstage at Know Theatre, where another Cincy Shakes regular is featured in the one-woman adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The script feels a tad long, but it's such a pleasure to watch Corinne Mohlenhoff as Offred — and a half-dozen other distinct characters — that all you can do is marvel at her skill in presenting them, not to mention in memorizing more than two hours of text. This frightening dystopian tale of America's possible future staged by Brian Phillips (Cincy Shakes artistic director and Mohlenhoff's husband) on a very effective set designed designed by Andrew Hungerford (Know's artistic director) is definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-300-5669.Other productions worth seeing on local stages: A collection of Johnny Cash tunes in Ring of Fire at the Cincinnati Playhouse (CityBeat interview here), the humorous Greater Tuna at Covedale (CityBeat review here) and a compelling staging of Samuel Beckett's breathtaking piece of absurdity, Waiting for Godot, at Cincy Shakes (CityBeat review here). Get ready for more fun at Know Theatre with the kick-off of the second season of Serials!, this one subtitled "Thunderdome." Starting Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. (and continuing at two-week intervals through the end of March) will be five 15-minute pieces intended to be episodically developed. But this time, two will be voted off each week by the audience, to be replaced by two new works the next time around. Sounds like fun, and if this repeats the success of last summer's inaugural event, it's a chance to see local actors and writers at work. Box office: 513-300-5669.Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 

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