by Rick Pender 07.10.2015 90 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
jefferson, franklin & adams - 1776 @ the incline - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door

History, Spelling and One-Minute Plays

Of course, everyone is focused on baseball this weekend, leading up to Tuesday’s All-Star Game right in our own backyard — and that’s great for Cincinnati. But if you’re looking for theatrical entertainment, it’s here, too.  I had a chance to see the musical 1776 at Cincinnati Landmark’s new Warsaw Federal Incline Theater on Wednesday. It’s just the second show to be staged there, but it’s a fine one from just about every angle. The 1969 show — as much a play about American history as a musical (it has a stretch of 30 minutes in which no music happens) — is seldom produced in part because it requires nearly two-dozen strong singing male actors. This production found them, and they do a fine job: Especially noteworthy is Rodger Pille as the feisty John Adams, as well as his colleagues Ben Franklin (played by Bob Brunner )and Thomas Jefferson (taken on by Matt Krieg). But numerous others have their “historical” moments, as do Allison Muennich as Adams’ understanding wife Abigail and Lindsey Franxman as Jefferson’s lovely wife Martha. The show is both entertaining and inspiring, even if it takes a lot of liberties with real events. It won the 1969 Tony Award for best musical, and it’s a delight to see. It’s onstage at the Incline through July 26. Tickets: 513-241-6550 After 10 years, the musical about adolescents vying for honors in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has become pretty familiar. But it’s still a lot of fun to watch, and I suspect anyone who goes to the Commonwealth Theatre Company’s dinner theater production on campus at Northern Kentucky University will be having a good time — maybe even becoming a volunteer speller to join the contest. For 8 p.m. shows in the Stauss Theatre, there’s dinner at 6:30 p.m. in the Corbett Lobby. Through July 26. Tickets: 859-572-5464 If you want something a little more off the beaten path, you’ll find it at Know Theatre on Saturday and Sunday when the One-Minute Play Festival has three performances. Part community-convening, part social action and part play festival, the program investigates who we are and how we relate to our community through a series of 60 moments of storytelling by local writers and actors. If you’ve enjoyed the annual Fringe Festival, you should show up for this one. Tickets: 513-300-5669.In a similar vein — and just a block away from Know Theatre’s Over-the-Rhine location — you’ll find a show by the GoodPeople Theatre Company, Is This Really Happening Right Now? It’s some vignettes by two local writers exploring friendships and relationships — on a blind date, in a coffee shop, in a Laundromat and over Tinder. Tickets ($15) at the door at Simple Space (16 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine).And if you still need more, remember that Monday will be the second round of Serials! at Know Theatre, with five plays started by local writers pick up for another 15-minute episode, but now penned by a different playwright. This time around the theme is “Round House,” and it’s sure to generate some zany stuff.  Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

A Big Bowl of ‘Serials!’ at Know

0 Comments · Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Know Theatre’s Tamara Winters is straightforward when asked why the Over-the-Rhine theater launched Serials! a year ago: “We wanted to give audiences a reason to keep coming back. We keep bringing it back because it’s working!”   

Final Thoughts on the 2015 Cincy Fringe

0 Comments · Wednesday, June 10, 2015
The 2015 Cincinnati Fringe Festival wrapped up last Saturday, but the glow continues.   

Great Choices From the 2015 Cincy Fringe

0 Comments · Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Just four more days for the 2015 Cincy Fringe. CityBeat’s review team has been covering each show’s opening, giving Critic’s Picks to “must-see” productions. Here are a half-dozen edited clips, in case you need tips for shows to consider. Find more picks and full reviews of the 40-plus productions at citybeat.com.  

Cincinnati Fringe: Community, Camaraderie and Passion

0 Comments · Wednesday, May 27, 2015
The 13th annual Cincinnati Fringe is under way. Shows start Wednesday and continue through June 6. CityBeat writers will attend the opening performance of every production and provide next-day reviews  

2015 Cincinnati Fringe: Shouts from the Vanguard of American Theater

Events kick off Tuesday and the weirdness continues through June 6

0 Comments · Wednesday, May 20, 2015
As the Cincinnati Fringe Festival comes upon its 13th year — starting May 26 and running through June 6 — we thought it would be informative to hear from seven people who work behind the scenes to produce this annual two weeks of theater, creativity and fun.   
by Rick Pender 04.26.2015
Posted In: Theater at 11:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Call Board: Coming Attractions for Cincinnati Theatergoers

Know Theatre, New Edgecliff, Carnegie, Commonwealth, Xavier announce new seasons

Get your calendars read for another avalanche of shows from local theaters. Know Theatre just announced its 2015-2016 season, and several others have done the same recently, so you’ll find everything rounded up in this “Call Board” blog for CityBeat theater fans. Nearly two dozen full-scale shows and a handful of other events are headed your way. Know Theatre of Cincinnati Andrew Hungerford, Know Theatre’s artistic director, has pointed out that the coming season is the company’s 18th, and that at years of age, “We’re ready to do everything that entails: step into a wider world, fall in love, confront loss, get a crazy summer job, have a history lesson, party with some college kids, give up our childhood toys, obsess over Star Wars again, rail against poverty and injustice, engage in civic discourse, major in the sciences and then, maybe, take a trip to the beach.” Know is planning a lot of shows including works that are entertaining and socially conscious and that offer lots of opportunities for local artists. “As we near the 10th anniversary of moving into our home at 1120 Jackson St., I think we’re getting ever closer to the vision that Know Theatre’s leadership has always had for this space,” says Producing Artistic Andrew Hungerford. “From our mainstage to Serials to Fringe, there is so much happening on our stages. It really is a theatrical playground here. And seeing the Underground filled with an audience eager to be a part of the next crazy thing we make reminds me exactly why I took this job.” Hungerford is completing his first season of artistic leadership. Here’s what’s in store for his second: Serials 3: Roundhouse (Late June) will be another stab at short-form theater. This time out there will be five playwrights involved in creating five episodic plays. Each week they’ll trade who’s writing which story. One-Minute Play Festival (July 10-12, 2015) This event will invite writers to consider the world around them, their cities and communities and the ways they view the world, then write topical moments that say something about what’s happening here and now. The results, probably 70 to 90 of them, will be put together into three evenings of performance. Hundred Days (July 24-Aug. 22, 2015). This is a show conceived by the Bengsons, a singer-musician couple who have been Cincinnati Fringe festival favorites, and they workshopped it here in 2011. It’s about a couple whose time together is cut short by a fatal illness. They decide to live the 100 days left as if it were the 60 years they had hoped for. The Hunchback of Seville by Charise Castro Smith (Oct. 9-24, 2015) with CCM drama students, will be staged by CCM drama faculty member Brant Russell. Set in 1504 in Spain, it’s an irreverent comedy that turns historical atrocities on their heads. Andy’s House of [blank] by Paul Strickland and Trey Tatum (Oct. 30-Nov. 14, 2015). This will be a fully staged version of the show that was presented in 15-minute increments across the five evenings of Serials 2: Thunderdome. (It’s the only show that made it through five weeks.) It’s a small-town, mystery-spot, time travel musical about an unusual man who runs a store that’s an every changing emporium of oddities. Strickland and Tatum are Fringe Festival veterans. All Childish Things by Joseph Zettelmaier (Nov. 20-Dec. 19, 2015) is about three guys who still have Star Wars on the brain, despite being 30 years old. It’s set in Norwood, and the fact that Kenner, designer of Star Wars toys was headquartered in Cincinnati, is important to this story. This production happens right around the time that Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens will be in movie theaters. The playwright has been recognized several times by the American Theatre Critics Association, including this play in 2006. The Naughty List by OTR Improv at Arnold’s Bar & Grill (December 2015) picks up on the Star Wars theme, too. This holiday iteration is subtitled, “The Jolly Awakens.” Serials 4! (January 2016). Another round of episodic storytelling. BlackTop Sky by Christina Anderson (Jan. 29-Feb. 20, 2016) is a story about love, violence, community, mental illness and the line between poverty and true homelessness. Kimberly Faith Hickman, the New York City-based director who staged Know’s thought-provoking production of The Twentieth-Century Way in April 2014, will stage it. Beertown by dog & pony DC (March 2-19, 2016) is another crossover by a Fringe Festival act: dog & Pony performed A Killing Game here in 2013. For this show, they’ll present alternative tales about our town’s history and we get to choose which version we like — a mash-up of choose your own adventure and maybe a murder mystery dinner party. Every performance begins with a dessert potluck; audiences are encouraged to bring a dessert to share. Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson (April 15-May 14, 2016), one of America’s hottest young playwrights. Know presented her Macbeth-themed script, Toil and Trouble back in 2014, and the Cincinnati Playhouse is giving her new play The Revolutionists its world premiere in February 2016. Silent Sky is the true story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt and a group of revolutionary women who found a way to measure the universe. The thirteenth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival happens in late May and early June 2016. Followed by one more (June 24-July 16, 2016) show that’s still TBA (June 24-July 16), but Hungerford hints that it could be by Steve Yockey, whose surreal Pluto was staged by Know early in 2014. New Edgecliff Theatre New Edgecliff Theatre has announced three shows for its 2015-2016 season, planned for a new Northside venue at St. Patrick’s Church. “These are plays that challenge the way the characters view their lives and the circumstances they find themselves in,” says Producing Artistic Director Jim Stump. “They are stories of how much can change when you change how you look at things.” Frankie and Johnny in the Clare de Lune by Terrence McNally (Sept. 17-Oct. 3, 2015). Jared Doren staged an excellent production of William Inge’s Bus Stop for NET in 2013, and he’ll be back to put together this show about a pair of lonely, middle-aged people whose first date ends with their tumbling into bed. Things head in different directions from there. This show, which debuted in 1987, had a sterling production at the Cincinnati Playhouse back in 1989; the Playhouse presents a new play by McNally, Mothers and Sons, in the spring of 2016. The Santaland Diaries (Dec. 3-19, 2015) is a reprise of David Sedaris’s very funny monologue about working as an elf in Macy’s Santaland in New York City. This holiday staple has been missing from local stages for two seasons; it will be fun to see it again. The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute (April 14-30, 2016). Former NET artistic director Elizabeth Harris will direct LaBute’s 2001 play about a man who thinks a woman is romantically interested in him when she’s actually using him as the subject of her MFA thesis project. The Carnegie Under the management of new artistic director Maggie Perrino, Covington’s Carnegie will present four productions of well-known theater titles in the Otto M. Budig Theater. Company by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth (Aug. 15-30, 2015) is about a single man and his married friends. The show, which won a dozen Tony Awards in 1971, has some of Sondheim’s greatest musical numbers, including “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “Getting Married Today” and “Being Alive.” Sleuth by Anthony Shaffer (Nov. 7-22, 2015) is about playing games, but in this tale, the games are deadly serious. Veteran director Greg Procaccino will stage this famous Tony Award winner, a whodunit that will keep audiences guessing from start to finish. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg (Jan. 21-31, 2016) will be the Carnegie’s “lightly staged” musical for the coming season — a production that puts music and storytelling over physical staging. The production will feature the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, led by J. R. Cassidy, performing all the tunes from the classic 1939 movie. The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown (April 9-24, 2016) is an excellent contemporary musical (from 2001) about Jamie and Cathy, a young couple going through a divorce. His story and hers travel in opposite directions through time. Brown is one of the best of Broadway’s next generation of composers. Commonwealth Dinner Theater This company offers professional productions with dinner at Northern Kentucky University during the summer months. Productions are often sold out, so be sure to call early to reserve tickets (859-572-5464). This summer’s shows have characters from opposite ends of the age spectrum. The Sunshine Boys (June 3-21, 2015) is Neil Simon’s 1971 comedy about two aging vaudevillian comics who have grown to hate each other after 40 years of working together. They’re reuniting for a special about the history of comedy, but keeping them on the same page is no easy task. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin (July 8-26, 2015) is about a contest featuring six quirky adolescents, overseen by three oddball adults. Its 2005 Broadway production was a surprise winner of several Tony Awards. Brush up on your spelling and you could be one of several audience members invited onstage to test your skills against the “kids.” Xavier University In its second year as a degree program, Xavier University Theatre is undertaking an ambitious season that features two Broadway musicals, a world premiere and a contemporary drama, staged by former Cincinnati Playhouse artistic director Ed Stern. The undergraduate actors at Xavier will give Cincinnati audiences a second chance to see The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Oct. 22-24, 2015). Stern will direct Kenney Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth (Dec. 3-6, 2015), the story of three wayward young people navigating New York in 1982 as they try to thread their way into adulthood. In an especially challenging endeavor, the theatre program will present three plays in repertory during a two-week stretch (Feb. 17-28, 2016): Miss Julie by August Strindberg will be staged by veteran actress Torie Wiggins; Betrayal by Harold Pinter will be staged by another stage veteran, Bruce Cromer; and a new play by student playwright Tatum Hunter, Eve, will be staged by Bridget Leak. Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent (April 21-24, 2016) will round out the season. It’s another Tony Award winner — and it landed a Pulitzer Prize, not often bestowed on a musical. Set in New York’s East Village, it follows a story about bohemian artists struggling to get by, inspired by Puccini’s opera, La Bohème.  Actors Theatre of Louisville In 2016 the Humana Festival of New American Plays marks its 40th anniversary at Actors Theatre of Louisville. The theater has commissioned Sarah Ruhl, one of America’s most respected current playwrights, to create a new work, Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, for the occasion. The play, a moving look at growing up and growing old within a family, will be presented from March 10 to April 10, 2016. Ruhl’s works have been offered by many of Cincinnati’s theatres — The Clean House by the Cincinnati Playhouse, Eurydice by Know Theatre, Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Ensemble Theatre and In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) by CCM Drama at the Carnegie in Covington.
by Rick Pender 04.03.2015
at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: The Circle of Life

I've seen The Lion King five times, on Broadway and on tour. I wrote about it in a feature this week, describing how a successful but not terribly profound animated Disney feature became a stage musical that's a worldwide phenomenon. A touring production is at the Aronoff through April 26; it's the third time the show has landed in Cincinnati. Rather than evaluate the performers — who are highly talented and extremely polished in their presentation of the show — I decided to pay attention to the visuals this time around. It was worth it. The Lion King has the most inspiring opening of any show I've seen: A call and response between Rafiki, a nervous mandrill and two others brings together a clutch of African animals to Pride Rock where a regal pair of lions, King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi are presenting their new cub. The animals enter the theater from all directions — from the stage wings and down the Aronoff's aisles, enabling the audience to see the actors in their puppet gear up close as they sing "The Circle of Life." It's a great way to begin the show's magic. But it's only the start: There is color and pageantry to burn in this story — from a colony of loony hyenas to a fatal stampede of antelopes. The second act opens with the chorus dressed in colorful clothes with ornate puppet birds and kites sing "One on One." I was reminded of the wonderful South African choral groups that inspired Cincinnati audiences during the World Choir games in 2012 — passionate harmonizing and heart-thumping rhythms. From start to finish, The Lion King is a remarkable experience. If you've seen it once, it's worth going again to appreciate new dimensions of this gorgeous production. Tickets: 513-621-2781.Two good shows onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse this weekend, and they couldn't be more different from one another. It's the final weekend for Peter and the Starcatcher (CityBeat review here) a prequel to Peter Pan that elaborates in a fanciful way about the origins of the boy who refuses to grow up, Captain Hook, the Lost Boys, Tinker Bell and more. It's driven by imaginative theater-making — instead of special effects, audiences are called upon to envision things like storms brewing and characters flying. A great show for families. … On the Shelterhouse stage it's serious drama with Tracey Scott Wilson's Buzzer (CityBeat review here), the story of three people moving into a redeveloping urban neighborhood. It feels like Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. Tensions spurred by changing populations provide context for this story, but it's really about the toxic dynamic between an up-and-coming black attorney, his white schoolteacher girlfriend and his white boyhood pal who's led a troubled life. A strong cast and Wilson's naturalistic dialogue make this a very watchable (but very adult) show. This one is onstage through April 19. Box office: 513-421-3888.Know Theatre opened it's production of the comic-book inspired Hearts Like Fists last weekend. It's a two-dimensional tale of girl crime fighters battling a dastardly villain, Doctor X, who's murdering lovers — since his own love life is in shambles. There's humor but not a lot of depth to this one, but if you like slam-bang action stories, you'll love the fight choreography and the silly posing of the characters. It's around until April 25. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … A block away from Know in Over-the-Rhine, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is winding down its production of Detroit ’67 (CityBeat review here), set in a tumultuous era in the Motor City as a brother and sister struggle to make a living while the world around them is burning. Although it's rooted in events from nearly a half-century ago, this one has some very prescient messages that seem like they're about more recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere. Final performance is 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3555.Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

Heartbreak at Know Theatre

0 Comments · Monday, March 30, 2015
When I was a teenager, I devoured comic books ... I haven’t spent much time with those stories or characters for years, but Know Theatre’s production of Hearts Like Fists took me back to the days of two-dimensional characters, clear delineation between good and evil and lots of slam-bam action.