by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:07 AM | Permalink
Last night I was at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for the opening of Keith Josef Adkins' new play, Safe House, the 71st world premiere staged by our Tony Award-winning regional theater. (CityBeat feature story here.) It's a fascinating piece that's about the little-known circumstances of "free people of color" in 19th-century America — not slaves but not exactly free. They're put into complex and stressful situations, personified here by a pair of very different brothers: Addison is a hardworking, aspiring entrepreneur, dreaming of become a cobbler with his own store, while younger brother Frank is impetuous and chafing at the restrictions imposed on them. The heat gets turned up when runaway slaves through their Northern Kentucky county need shelter and perhaps passage to Liberia, something their Aunt Dorcas has quietly supported. The story is based on Adkins' family history in this region, and it comes to life in this provocative drama. Through Nov. 15. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.UC's College-Conservatory of Music only rarely gives more than one weekend to musical theater productions. This fall's privileged show is the very commercial Legally Blonde (a hit movie with Reese Witherspoon from 2001 that became a Broadway property in 2007). It's a genuinely entertaining show that actually has a meaningful message about living up to potential and not judging people by their exteriors. It also has a ton of dancing, so it's great news that this production is both being staged by veteran CCM choreographer Diane, who I profiled in my Curtain Call column this week. The production is happening at UC's Patricia Corbett Theater through Nov. 2. Tickets ($31-$35): 513-556-4183.
It's fairytale time at the Covedale Center with a production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. But proceed with caution: The first act takes more or less traditional stories of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and more, and mixes them into one happy stew. But in Act II, well, things aren't so "happily every after" when reality sets in. Big cast, great tunes, lots of humor — but some thoughtfulness, too. Through Nov. 16. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.The chance to see Bruce Cromer's one-man performance in An Iliad at Ensemble Theatre is an absolute must for anyone who's serious about theater. (CityBeat review here.) It's quite astonishing that one man can do so much and hold an audience's attention for 100 minutes in this retelling of the savagery of the Trojan War. It's all the more powerful because it's a condemnation of war across the ages. Don't miss this one. Through Nov. 2, and no chance that it will be extended, so call now for your tickets. Here's a tip, thanks to friendly relations with Know Theatre, just around the corner from ETC: Use the coupon code MOBY20 to get 20 percent off the price of two tickets for any remaining performances. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555.With Halloween just a week away, several theaters are offering shows that will make your heart pound. There's creepy ghost in Falcon Theatre's production of The Woman in Black ($17-$19, 513-479-6783), and the characters in Conor McPherson's The Birds are under attack in ways that don't bode to well for human interaction ($22-$36, 513-381-2273). (CityBeat review here.) And while it's not exactly a Halloween story, Moby Dick at Know Theatre has some scary oddballs and a gargantuan villain out to murder everyone, so that qualifies, too. (CityBeat review here.) It's onstage through Nov. 8 ($18; 513-300-5669).
This weekend is last call for I loved, I lost, I Made Spaghetti at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (CityBeat review here.) Actress Antoinette LaVecchia spins some great stories about writer Giulia Melucci's bad taste in men, all the while making an aromatic Italian dinner — antipasti, wine, spaghetti Bolognese (homemade pasta and fresh sauce) — for a few lucky audience members. This is a totally charming show, great for weekend entertainment. Final performance is Sunday. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-2418-3888.Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:30 AM | Permalink
On Wednesday evening I attended one of the most remarkable solo performances I've ever seen: Bruce Cromer starring in An Iliad at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. Based on Homer's epic poem about the Trojan War, the poetic but dynamic script calls on one actor to play a dozen or so characters. Cromer does everyone of them (sometimes interacting with one another) with both imagination and detail. But mostly he's "The Poet," trapped by his role to tell this story — and the story of war in general — for nearly three millennia. He lets us see the attraction of glory and the devastation of senseless combat often for trivial reasons (the stealing of one man's wife by another lit the fuse on the Siege of Troy). The play is a condemnation of war and an acknowledgement of its inevitability. But it's also a celebration of theater, and Cromer is an absolute marvel to watch: After 100 minutes (no intermission) he's dripping with sweat from the effort and bowing to a genuine standing ovation. This is a production that no theater fan should miss. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555
There's a Cirque du Soleil show, Varekai, at the Bank of Kentucky Center at Northern Kentucky University. Like most, it's light on content and high on entertainment: A winged man falls from the rafters into a magical world where he recovers, witnessing the delights of strange creatures — who also happen to be marvelous performers: tumblers, aerial artists, jugglers and acrobats. As always, there's a pair of clowns who have fun with a few audience members. I didn't find Varekai (it's a Gypsy word that means "wherever") quite as breathtaking as some of the Cirque shows I've witnessed, but that's a relative remark, not a judgment on this production. The "Russian Swings" just before the finale feature acrobats hurled high into the air by massive swings, landing in the arms of others or on canvas sails. (Don't try this at home.) Varekai is a great escape and totally family friendly. Final performance is Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets ($28-$145): 800-745-3000
For a quick taste of Know Theatre's Moby Dick, check out this trailer: http://youtu.be/QMbqos66s0s. There's singing of sea shanties, hoisting of sails and a tremendous battle with the Great White Whale. I'm hoping that this ambitious production gets its sea legs soon: It felt a bit wobbly during the opening week. But Herman Melville's classic American novel has life breathed into it by a cast of eight hardworking actors. Onstage through Nov. 8. Tickets ($18, but performances on Wednesdays are free): 513-300-3669
Other items of note: On Monday evening, Know Theatre hosts the quarterly presentation of TRUEtheatre, real stories told by everyday people; this time around it's True Hair. … The following night at KNow, Cincinnati Fringe favorite Kevin Thornton is back in town to present another of his one-man shows of music and comedy, this one is called Talky Concert Thingy. He's a load of unpredictable talent, always watchable. … Falcon Theatre (they perform at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport) this weekend opens a production of the classic thriller, The Woman in Black. It's a good scare for the Halloween season. Tickets: 513-479-6783 … Children's Theatre of Cincinnati is offering public performances of Disney's Beauty and the Beast JR. at the Taft this weekend (and Saturday, Oct. 25). Tickets ($7-$25): 800-745-3000
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:20 AM | Permalink
Know Theatre sets sail this weekend with tonight's opening of Moby Dick. It's Herman Melville's great American novel stripped down to its bare essentials of men at sea doing battle with a creature that maimed their obsessive captain. It's Know's first main stage show staged by new artistic director Andrew Hungerford, who's teamed with co-director Michael Burnham, retired from CCM but no doubt as inventive as ever in bringing unusual material to audiences. Featuring the haunting music of sea shanties and a stage full of theatricality, it being performed through Nov. 8. Tickets ($20 in advance): 513-300-5669. And here's a tip: Wednesday evening performances are free as part of Know's "Welcome Experiment," intended to bring new audiences to its Over-the-Rhine facility. UC's College-Conservatory of Music is presenting Willy Russell's powerful British musical Blood Brothers today and tomorrow in the Cohen Family StudioTheater. Set in 1950s Liverpool, it's about a woman with too many children who is talked into giving up one of a pair of newborn fraternal twins. Despite her efforts and those of the unstable woman who wanted a baby, the boys meet and become not just friends but "blood brothers." They don't know their history, they simply feel drawn to one another. That leads to a tragic, perhaps inevitable, confrontation. But there is humor and an energetic Pop Rock score along the way. Hannah Kornfeld is heartbreaking as the conflicted mother; Thomas Knapp and Karl Amundson turn in heart-breaking performances as the ill-fated boys, from age 7 to 22. This weekend only; the final performance is Saturday evening at 8 p.m. Tickets are free but need to be reserved (513-556-4183); call in advance — performances are often sold out.
Perhaps you'd like to take a kid or two to see a show. The Cincinnati Playhouse's "Off the Hill" production, Roses & Thorns, based on "Beauty and the Beast," would be a fine choice. It's a touring production for kids ages 7 and up, and it's making its way to various neighborhoods over the next month or so (through Nov. 2). I attended a preview recently and found it thoroughly enjoyable. It's a sweet retelling of the familiar story whose love and devotion saves her family and breaks a curse on a monstrous beast who's really a handsome prince. The show uses clever props and costumes, slapstick, satire and high camp styles; its four actors are professionals in training, and their work, playing multiple characters and making quick changes, is great fun to watch. This weekend it's onstage at the Lebanon Theatre Company (10 S. Mechanic St., Lebanon) on Sunday at 2 p.m. Check the Playhouse's website for future performances around the Tristate. Tickets in Lebanon are $5: 513-228-0932
If you missed Kevin Crowley's one-woman show Sarge during the Cincinnati Fringe Festival last June, it's getting a reprise this weekend and next (it's onstage tonight through Oct. 20). Christine Dye's performance as the devoted but deluded wife of Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, found guilty of molesting young boys, won the Critics Pick of the Fringe. Dye is remarkable in three monologues that reveal the mind of a woman who cannot accept her husband's true nature. It's being presented in a double bill with another short script by local actor and playwright Crowley, The Monkey's Paw, a dark comedy about a couple struggling with the anxieties of early parenthood. Performances at Clifton Performance Theater, 404 Ludlow Avenue. Tickets ($25): 513-861-7469
I gave Critic's Picks in CityBeat recently to two excellent productions recently, and they remain onstage this weekend. I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a one-woman piece about cooking and relationships (charming actress Antoinette LaVecchia prepares an Italian dinner while describing her bad luck with men). Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888 … The Little Dog Laughed finishes its run this weekend at New Edgecliff Theater at Hoffner Hall (4120 Hamilton, Ave., Northside. It's the story of a gay actor whose agent is trying to keep him from ruining his career by being public about his persuasion. It's surprising how a play from 2007 could present anxieties about something that today is much more accepted, but this production is great fun to watch thanks to four fine actors, especially Kemper Florin as the motor-mouthed, scheming agent. Tickets: ($20-$27): 888-428-7311
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:05 AM | Permalink
There are several good productions onstage around town — check out CityBeat coverage of Hands on a Hardbody (a musical at ETC), The Great Gatsby (a classic American novel adapted for the stage at Cincy Shakes), Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club (a new adventure for the great detective at the Cincinnati Playhouse) and Tennessee Williams' prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire (at the Covedale)
— but if you've seen those, you have other choices for onstage
entertainment. Here are three suggestions for shows a little more off
the beaten path:Local actor/director/writer Kevin Crowley has written a play called The Riverside,
rooted in Cincinnati (Crowley is a member of a family that's lived
locally for generations) and getting a production — he's directing it,
too — at Clifton Performance Theatre, just west of the Clifton/Ludlow
business district (404 Ludlow). It's set in an imaginary (or rather an
imagined) bar called the Riverside, where a bunch of folks in 1989 are
following the Pete Rose case about gambling that eventually got him
banned from baseball. But there's a lot more happening — like protests
in Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In
CPT's tiny space is filled up with a lot of talent — Michael Shooner,
Daniel Britt, Buz Davis, Mike Dennis, Mindy Heithaus, Reggie Willis,
Mark Bowen, MaryKate Moran, Gary McGurk, Pete Wood, Cathy Springfield
and Paul Morris — playing folks who hang out and argue about what's
going on. I haven't caught this one yet, but everyone who has says it's
worth seeing. Through Sept. 27. Tickets ($25): https://cpt.tixato/com/buyCommunity theater company Showbiz Players is staging the musical Reefer Madness at the Carnegie in Covington. It opens tonight (and runs through Sept. 28).
This tongue-in-cheek show was inspired by a very serious film from 1936
designed to inspire fear and loathing when clean-cut kids fall prey to
marijuana. The producers "warn" that it contains adult humor, religious
parody and drug use — and note that it will go "straight to your head."
Should be a lot of fun for those mature enough to get the jokes ...
Tickets ($19.50-$22.50): 859-957-1940Side by Side by Sondheim was the first musical revue created using songs by the guy who wrote the music and lyrics for shows including Company, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Gypsy and A Little Night Music. That was in 1976 in London, but the tunes are just as fresh and vibrant today as they were nearly four decades ago. Middletown Lyric Theatre is presenting this collection of 25 numbers for two weekends (tonight and tomorrow, as well as Sept. 26-27) — using seven singers and two pianists. Tickets ($15): 513-425-7140
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:12 AM | Permalink
Cincinnati stages were pretty quiet over
the Independence Day weekend, but this week they start waking up and
getting ready for more. Tonight at 8 p.m. is the second installment of Serials!
at Know Theatre. You can see six fresh, 10-minute episodes of brand-new
plays by local playwrights — Trey Tatum, Chris Wesselman, Jon Kovach,
Ben Dudley, Michael Hall and the team of Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth
Martin — and featuring lots of Cincinnati-area actors. New artistic
director Andrew Hungerford calls it a "theater party" offering cold
beer, air-conditioning and world-premiere stories in Know's Underground
bar (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). Even if you missed the "pilots"
on June 23, you'll get caught up with a recap before each episode. I had
a blast watching these tantalizing tidbits two weeks ago, and I suspect
tickets will become harder to get as the summer progresses. (Subsequent
performances on July 21, Aug. 11 and 25 and Sept. 8.) Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is assembling a cast for its season opener, Hands on a Hardbody (Sept. 3-21),
a recent Tony-nominated musical about 10 people vying to win a truck by
outlasting their competitors and keeping their hands touching the
vehicle — which will be onstage at the Over-the-Rhine theater (1127 Vine
St.). ETC is seeking actors, singers and dancers for the show with an
open audition on Wednesday this week (July 9, 5-8 p.m.). All are welcome, but an appointment is required. (Contact email@example.com) Ensemble Theatre is an AEA Theatre. Union and non-union actors are encouraged to apply. Rehearsals begin August 11. ETC is seeking a diverse cast, and all ethnicities are encouraged to apply, especially African-American men and Hispanic males and females.
ETC had a big hit on its hands three years ago with the Tony Award-winning musical next to normal
about a woman with bipolar disorder. In fact it was such a draw that
they revived it in the summer of 2012. Although the Rock musical is a
challenging work, this week features not one but two productions by
Cincinnati-area community theaters: Sunset Players on the West Side and
Paradise Players on the East Side. Both productions open Friday
evening. The venerable Sunset Players, which presents shows at the
Dunham Arts Center (in the Dunham Recreation Complex, 4320 Guerley Rd.,
Price Hill), has performances through July 26, mostly at 8 p.m. (July 20 is a 2 p.m. matinee.) Tickets ($14-$16): 513-588-4988.
Meanwhile, Paradise Players, a newish group offering summer productions
at McNicholas High School's Jeanne Spurlock Theatre (6536 Beechmont
Ave.), will offer the show just this week, July 10-11 (7:30 p.m.) and July 12 (2:30 and 7:30 p.m.). Tickets: $15 (http://mcnhs.seatyourself.biz)
high schoolers now have Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.)
as a summer outlet for theatrical opportunities at Highlands High School
(2400 Memorial Pkwy., Fort Thomas). Starting Friday is a two-week run (July 11-20) of The Addams Family,
a Broadway musical based on the bizarre and beloved family of
characters created by cartoonist Charles Addams. C.A.S.T., headed by
Fort Thomas Independent Schools' theater instructor Jason Burgess,
enables kids from the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky to
develop their skills in performance and production beyond their school
year and beyond their school population. Tickets: $10 (http://www.showtix4u.com) or at the door.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:34 AM | Permalink
If you haven't found a couple of 2014 Cincinnati Fringe show
that you're dying to see this weekend, you need to go to CityBeat's
Fringe hub for some
recommendations — including reviews of early performances of all 30-plus shows. But if you're still coming up short, there are more choices
from area theaters.
If it's fun you're seeking, you might want to stop by the
Carnegie in Covington, where Showbiz Players is presenting Spamalot.
It opens tonight and runs through June 8. You probably know that this very
amusing musical (it won three 2005 Tony Awards, including best musical) is
"lovingly ripped off" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If
you can repeat lines from that 1975 cult hit, then this is surely the show for
you. Tickets ($21.50-$24.50): 859-957-1940
Although it's not part of the Fringe, Marc Bamuthi Joseph's red,
black & GREEN: a blues surely could be. The hybrid performance
work leads audiences through four seasons in four cities: summer in Chicago,
fall in Houston, winter in Harlem and spring in Oakland. Memories,
hallucinations, dreams and lamentations are set in shotgun houses and subway
cars, on park benches and in father-son conversations. I haven't seen it, but
people I know have raved about the power of the work, which ranges from
hilarious to poignantly sad. Joseph is a spoken-word poet, and his work is
meant to be a conversation starter about sustainability and community building.
It's being presented on Friday and Saturday evening by the Contemporary Arts
Center at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Tickets ($18 for CAC members,
$23 for everyone else): 513-621-2787
This is the final weekend for The North Pool
at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (CityBeat review here.) Rajiv Joseph's anxiety-filled drama is a sparring match
between a hard-nosed vice principal who thinks he knows something and a
student, the son of Middle Eastern immigrants, who has things he wants to keep
to himself — but it's not what the school official thinks. In fact, they both
have secrets that are slowly, painfully revealed. Great script, great actors.
This one is definitely worth catching. Tickets ($25 for students; $30-$75 for
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 11:09 AM | Permalink
Speaking in Tongues is a complicated noir-ish tale of marital
deceit and cryptic crime that unfolds more clearly because of its
accomplished four-actor cast, including local professionals Bruce
Cromer (who’s played roles as varied as Ebenezer Scrooge for the
Playhouse to King Lear for Cincinnati Shakespeare) and Amy Warner (a
regular at Ensemble Theatre and Cincinnati Shakespeare). The show is
a fascinating piece of theater that takes work to watch, follow and
absorb. I suppose that some casual theatergoers will be put off by
it, but if you like challenging drama and multi-layered acting,
you’ll leave the theater with your gears spinning. I gave Speaking
in Tongues a Critic’s Pick in this week's "Curtain Call" column. Onstage through March 4. Box office:
you’re a fan of the Cincinnati Fringe, you should check out the
at CCM on the University of Cincinnati campus. I was there last
evening and saw three of the six performances, especially enjoying
an interactive piece by nine actors based on John Wilkes Booth’s
final days. I also was entertained by The Eddie Shanahan Show,
closely inspired by Dickens’ A
but with some very modern twists. Attendees choose between six brief
productions (30 minutes or less) that are completely created,
promoted, enacted and staged by drama students. It’s a February
boost of creativity, staged throughout the CCM facility, Friday and
Saturday evenings at 7:30, as well as a 2:30 matinee on Saturday.
Admission is free, but you need to call the CCM box office to reserve
your ticket: 513-556-4183.Another
university option can be found at NKU. It’s Aaron Sorkin’s The
telling the story of Phil Farnsworth who invented television but
spent much of his life in legal wrangles with David Sarnoff, RCA
executive and the first “media mogul.” Sorkin's credits — from
— are a guarantee of a heady, exciting tale based on real events.
Tickets ($14 is the maximum price): 859-572-5464.
“comedy of anxiety” by Allison Moore, Collapse,
opens with the collapse of a highway bridge over the Mississippi
River in Minneapolis. But it’s about all kinds of things falling
down — the economy, relationships. This is the kind of edgy script
Know Theatre is known for, funny but meaningful. I gave the
production a Critic’s Pick because it combines heart and humor.
Collapse is presented with comic finesse and fine acting,
especially by local professional actress Annie Fitzpatrick. Know’s
best work of the season. Through March 3. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
This weekend is your
last chance to see the regional premiere of Matthew Lopez’s The
Whipping Man at Ensemble Theatre (through Saturday evening).
The historical play, set in Richmond, Va., in April 1865, just days
after the end of the Civil War, is a gripping drama that’s
beautifully staged and convincingly acted. I gave it a Critic’s
Pick. The production has been extended a week because of demand for
tickets; you won’t be contending with subscribers this weekend, so
if you haven’t seen it yet — call for a ticket: 513-421-3555.Each week in Stage
Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a
few pieces of theater news.