WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 

The Foreigner (Review)

Still fresh after 30 years

0 Comments · Sunday, July 8, 2012
I’ve seen Ken Shue’s 1984 comedy The Foreigner in several good productions. It’s one of the funniest plays I know, a well-oiled laugh machine, but if you anticipate what’s happening, you’d think it would diminish the humor.   
by Rick Pender 07.07.2012
Posted In: World Choir Games at 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
world-choir-games

World Choir Games: 'Voices of Gold'

Hot night at the School for Creative and Performing Arts

Despite the 100-plus heat on Friday evening, on my way to a World Choir Games concert at Over-the-Rhine's School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) I took an extra half-hour to wander through the renovated Washington Park, which officially opened earlier in the day. What an incredible scene! Hundreds of operagoers were streaming through the park on their way to see Porgy and Bess at Music Hall, while kids from the neighborhood — young and old, I must add — were playing in the people-friendly fountain. Everyone was strolling around admiring the views and the colorful "OTR Flags," another festive element of the park's opening. On from there to SCPA's Corbett Theater for another sold-out "Celebration Concert." This one used the theme "Voices of Gold," because each of the three choirs have won multiple honors in past World Choir Games and other choral competitions. SCPA seemed like the perfect setting, since each group was made up of youthful performers: Zvonky Praha is a school group from a school in Prague in the Czech Republic and some of its singers were obviously elementary school age kids; SKH Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School were high schoolers; and the Mansfield University Concert Choir was a mixed choir of young adults from the university in Pennsylvania. It's fascinating to observe the differing personalities of the choirs, here a product of age but also of directors with very different styles of leading the singing. Zvonky Praha begain with its 19-member chamber component, separately named "Abbellimento," all high school age girls clad in black pants and shirts, with scarlet sashes, some worn as belts, others as scarves and one as a head band. Their female voices were reedy but strong for their program, virtually all sung in Czech, so I can't tell you much of what the music was about. But I can say it was delivered with passion and clarity, accompanied in most cases by a blonde-haired pianist who played with expressive emotion. Several numbers were enhanced by one of the singers picking up a clarinet and offering soulful punctuation. When the balance of the choir came on to join Abbellimento, the numbers were roughly doubled, but again almost all girls wearing red choir capes. (There were two young boys, but I suspect their voices had not yet changed, and the feminine quality of the singing did not change.) Director Jamila Noveknová kept the ensemble in tight control, but for several final numbers had some soloists step forward, including one of the younger performers with a gorgeous soprano voice. Their final number, a choral replication of bells, was especially memorable. Lam Woo's director, Siu Mei Lee, is a petite, beautiful woman with shining, black hair. She conducted with the expressive grace of a ballerina, using large gestures and physical movement to inspire her very focused choristers. This was a big group, roughly 80 singers, wearing school uniforms: The boys had white shirts with a school emblem and ties while girls wore knee-length pale blue dresses with white "sailor" collars and white knee socks. This group were serious in their demeanor, totally focused on their animated director. Their wide ranging program encompassed works by Mendelssohn as well as Asian composers; their concluding number, "Zum Gali," was a rhythmic traditional number from Israel that swung between soft and loud passages and up and down energy, but with a beautiful fading elevation of tone as its conclusion. The intense singers maintained their demeanor as the audience gave them a standing ovation, but when a little boy entered from the wings to hand a bouquet to Siu Mei Lee, the entire chorus burst into applause. Their affection for her was evident. Peggy Dettwiler is clearly a veteran conductor (she teaches the craft to others at Mansfield University) and her work with her more mature singers was the most satisfying component of the evening. A balanced choir of about 60, the men wore traditional tuxedoes and black ties, while the women were attired in floor-length gowns all cut the same way. (The women also wore identical sparkling necklaces and earrings.) According to the introductions made for this group, their repertoire is generally drawn from religious works, but that did not mean it was a lot of the same thing: They offered a beautiful piece with German lyrics and music by Mendelssohn, followed by a solemn, stately song by Stephen Paulus, "The Old Church." Next was a traditional Gospel number, "Hold On!," delivered with relaxed energy. For a traditional Appalachian hymn, "Every Night When the Sun Goes Down," the group formed an unorthodox circle around Dettwiler, who conducted the entire program without music from a small, square platform about six-inches in height. That meant that some had their backs to the audience, but at one key moment, they turned toward us, which elevated not only their volume but the intensity of their heartfelt performance. Their finale, "Pal-so seong," was a humorous number in which various solo singers burst into giggles, hoots and chortles, culminating in gales of laughter — a truly unusual piece. The group's encore, an infectious "Alleluia," had them file up the aisles at Corbett Theater, surrounding the audience with joyous song. It was a perfect conclusion to the varied program.
 
 
by Rick Pender 07.06.2012
Posted In: World Choir Games at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
world-choir-games

World Choir Games: 'Global Harmony'

Masonic Center performances high quality and appreciated

On Thursday evening I slogged through the humid, 100 degree soup of downtown Cincinnati to hear a World Choir Games concert at the Masonic Center on Fourth Street (next door to the Taft Theatre). I've lived in Cincinnati for 32 years and covered lots of arts events, but I've never set foot inside this honeycomb of stages, halls and meeting rooms. The sold-out event I attended, "Global Harmony," was in a steeply sloped, floridly decorated auditorium that seats approximately 1,000 people. A four-step set of risers was set up in front of a proscenium with a curtain; the scenery was provided by three choirs, two international groups — the Diocesan Schools Choral Society from Hong Kong and the Stellenbosch University Choir from South Africa — both highly recognized ensembles at the 2010 World Choir Games in Shaoxing, China. The third choir had a shorter trek to Cincinnati; the Capital University Chapel Choir, about 80 singers strong, came from Columbus and held its own with the two groups from other continents. The Hong Kong group, roughly 120 high school boys and girls, offered a beautiful, restrained program of earnestly conceived works performed with polish, some religious and some literary (the latter included a piece based on Robert Burns' poem, "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose"). The singers from Capital University had the men attired in black suits, shirts and ties, the women in long dresses with identical bias-cut necklines but in varying colors, bright blue, maroon and navy. Their program was an interesting mixture of pieces, with several uptempo numbers — a lovely song by Dolly Parton, "Light of a Clear Blue Morning," that featured a crystalline solo by Annie Huckaba, and several rhythmic works, "Hehehlooyuh" and "Tshotsholoza," both of which evoked strong responses from the audience. The latter, a South African number, featured two forceful soloists, Chris Bozeka and Nicholas Klein, as well as percussive accompaniment on African drums by Emily Riggin and another chorus member (not named in the program). The Stellenbosch choir, constituted of approximately 120 white and black college students and which earned three gold medals in the 2010 World Choir Games in China, presented a half-dozen songs plus an encore. "Kiasa-isa Niyan," described by conductor André van der Merwe as a counting song from the Philippines, used catchy choreography and motion, including chest thumping, vocal clicking, head snapping and a sharply executed bow at the end. The most moving number of the program, a traditional Zulu song, "African Prayer." It pulled six strong-voiced soloists (again, not named in the program) to the front of the stage and placed two more among the audience for an emotional call-and-response counterpoint that evoked a standing ovation. In fact, each group was greeted with sustained applause as its singers filed on stage and cheered with a standing ovation after their performance. The audience was appreciative and wildly enthusiastic; some were parents of the Capital University performers, but many others were clearly people who simply love choral performances that are delivered with finesse, creativity and enthusiasm. Fifth Street was choked with buses bringing people from various hotels beyond downtown, here as tourists to listen to these performances. Oh, yes: The auditorium was comfortably air-conditioned, a fact appreciated by those in attendance as well as the singers. It was a fine way to be introduced to the possibilities of the World Choir Games, here in the United States — not to mention in Cincinnati — for the first time ever. I was proud to be in attendance.
 
 
by Anne Arenstein 07.05.2012
Posted In: World Choir Games at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
world-choir-games

World Choir Games Underway

Opening Ceremony involves welcoming by U.S. officials and lots of singing

It was quite the spectacle and in a good way. As I, along with other members of MUSE, approached Great American Ballpark around 4 p.m., there were already hundreds of World Choir Games participants thronging the entrance, and despite the stifling temperature, the excitement was palpable. All the hype about this being an international event was no hype at all. For the first time I can remember, Cincinnati looked like an international city.  Choirs from West Chester, Loveland and Pleasant Ridge chatted with groups from Japan, Colombia, Canada and Australia. Cheers erupted from all parts of the plaza, spontaneous singing and dancing were everywhere. The plaza was a riot of color: the Colombians in vivid red, orange, and yellow; Japanese women in blue and pink kimonos; the Nigerian choir in bright green dashikis and caps; and the Costa Rican women's choir in flowing white dresses embroidered in bright red. With no signage but a multitude of helpful volunteers, 5,000 of us were mustered into holding areas before marching over to U.S. Bank Arena. Bottled water and mist sprayers relieved the heat, and when the water ran out, there plenty of ice cubes — putting them down my back never felt better. We found ourselves in a shaded area along with a youth choir from Erie, Pa. Suddenly they started chanting, "Sing! Sing! Sing!"  As we launched in the South African Xhosa song "Bambelela," their eyes lit up in recognition and suddenly we were one big chorus. They answered us with "The Storm is Passing Over," and this time, our eyes lit up. Same arrangement we do. They sang a beautiful arrangement of "As I Went Down to the River to Pray." When we sang Bernice Johnson Reagon's "I'm Gon' Stand," with Lois Shegog belting out the solo, they were riveted.  Once inside the arena, more cheering as groups saw themselves on the JumboTrons. The soundtrack took in The Temptations, The Jackson 5, Gloria Estafan, The Monkees, and I think Neil Diamond was in there somewhere. The Aussies sitting below us started a beach ball toss that would have gone on longer if an arena-wide wave hadn't taken over. I didn't see many empty seats. WCPO's Clyde Gray and Carol Williams were affable emcees and the opening remarks by Mayor Mallory and Interkultur head Gunther Titsch were mercifully brief (Titsch spoke in heavily accented English and then reverted to his native German. That was fine — I'd rather look at his translator any day. Williams read greetings from President Obama — the letter was projected on the video screens to the accompaniment of hundreds of camera flashes. Rob Portman didn't applaud. But he recovered to declare the games open. Cincinnati Pops conductor John Morris Russell paid tribute to the late Erich Kunzel, who was the driving force behind bringing the WCG to Cincinnati. And it was his vision to include the traditional July 4th concert as part of the opening ceremony. I think he would have been delighted and not at all surprised at the power of singing to bring people together. Choruses rose with pride as their nation's flag was announced, but they also cheered on their peers. I'll never forget the group from Namibia turning to cheer South Africa. As we left, I couldn't help singing India Arie's "There's Hope." MUSE sang that, too.
 
 

It's All Just Singing, Right?

0 Comments · Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Opera always struck me as a strange, overblown cousin to musical theater. I told people that I had to “turn off my theater filters when I went to see opera.” But then I spent several seasons working for Cincinnati Opera, and my eyes were opened to the reasons people react so strongly to that art form.  

Kind of Blue

0 Comments · Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Hot on the heels of Monet in Giverny, this summer the Cincinnati Art Museum showcases the life and legacy of pioneering African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner in Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit. A full-scale retrospective, Modern Spirit is a provocative examination of one man’s journey to discover a pictorial language capable of expressing an intense religious feeling.  
by Rick Pender 06.29.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
porgy and bess cred

Stage Door: Last Chances

'The Second City 2' and 'next to normal' conclude this weekend, among others

It’s a weekend of last chances, as several shows that have been entertaining audiences wind up their runs just before Independence Day. Let’s start with The Second City 2: Less Pride … More Pork. If you haven’t yet caught this evening of poking fun at our local foibles and sacred cows, you have only until Saturday. The cast of five from Chicago’s legendary comedy troupe has been tickling local funny bones since late April, drawing their material from bottomless well of our beliefs and behaviors. Even if you saw the show a month or two ago, you’ll be entertained by a return visit. Improv is the fuel for the evening, and every night they’re up to new tricks to entertain audiences. By the way, that includes involving a few folks in attendance, so be prepared. Box office: 513-421-3888. Sunday winds up Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s revival of the Tony Award-winning musical next to normal. (Review here.) The story of a woman struggling with schizophrenia and how it affects her family is even better than it was back in September. The show uses the power of a brilliant Rock score to enhance the impact of this painful story. ETC has reassembled most of its superb cast from last fall, including Jessica Hendy in the central role. Her beleaguered husband is now played by Bruce Cromer, who you might know as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Playhouse’s annual A Christmas Carol. His character’s relationship with Hendy’s makes their struggles all the more deeply felt. Box office: 513-421-3555. Last Sunday I had some good laughs at the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace on the Showboat Majestic. It’s an old chestnut (it was a hit in 1944), but it’s one of the funniest shows you’re likely to see, about a pair of off-kilter elderly maiden aunts who keep their rather normal nephew astonished and scrambling to keep them in line. The kind-hearted women take in boarders, quiet elderly men who are “all alone in the world,” and polish them off with elderberry wine laced with arsenic. They convince another nephew, who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt, to bury them in the basement by telling him they’re Panama Canal works who are victims of yellow fever. A great show for the whole family. Box office: 513-241-6550. Also winding up this weekend is Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). This rambunctious show mentions of all the Bard’s works — although many are completely unrecognizable, thanks the three buffoonish guys who undertake the task. Order your tickets online where you’ll find an automatic buy-one, get-one offer. Website: www.cincyshakes.com. Cincinnati Opera is offering Porgy & Bess for the first time ever, with a performances on Saturday evening (as well as July 6 and 8). (Preview here.) Is it an opera or a musical? Judge for yourself (and read about it in my Curtain Call column in next week’s issue of CityBeat). It’s at Music Hall, with lots of seats, but as always, a limited run. This is one you shouldn’t miss. I saw it Thursday night, and the leading performers are great: Measha Brueggergosman is a conflicted Bess, Jonathan Lemalu conveys Porgy’s dignified but depressed life, Gordon Hawkins is the brutal Crown, and Steven Cole steals the show as the animated, irreverent Sporting Life. And pay attention to the chorus — it’s a wonderful ensemble. Box office: 513-241-2742. Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
 
 
by Rick Pender 06.26.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
rent - footlighters inc. - photo provided

Community Theater Award Winners

Nineteen all-volunteer community theaters honored

Last weekend a dozen Cincinnati-area community theaters competed in the annual Regional OCTA Fest, each presenting 30-minute excerpts of shows that had been produced sometime during the 2011-2012 season. Performances were presented on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; the final day was capped by the annual Orchid Awards recognition program on Saturday evening, where more than 60 productions received awards. The excerpt competition, with performances evaluated by three adjudicators from elsewhere in Ohio, results in three productions being selected to go to the statewide event on Labor Day weekend. Selected this year were Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, presented by the Drama Workshop; the musical Avenue Q, presented by Showbiz Players; and the musical Rent, presented by Footlighters, Inc. An alternate is selected, too, in the event that some complication prevents one of the chosen productions from traveling to the state competition. The 2012 alternate is An Inspector Calls, presented by The Village Players. Nineteen Cincinnati community theaters — all-volunteer groups that produce shows throughout the region — were honored with Orchid Awards at Saturday’s banquet, with recognition for individuals as well as elements of productions. Footlighters, which presents its shows at the Stained Glass Theater in Newport, had the show with the most awards: Rent picked up 26, including one for “overall performance quality.” Coming in second with 20 awards was Greater Hamilton Community Theater’s production of the musical Little Women. Footlighters, always a strong contender, also took third place (16 awards) with a production of the musical The Light in the Piazza. Rounding out the top 10 award-winning productions were Cole (15 awards; Mariemont Players); The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (13, Greater Hamilton Community Theater); Titanic (12, Cincinnati Music Theatre); Over the River and Through the Woods (12, Mariemont Players); Same Time Next Year (12, Mariemont Players); Becky’s New Car (12, Middletown Lyric Theatre); and The Crucible (12, The Drama Workshop). A final note: Mariemont Players, which produces six shows annually (most groups present three or four, at most) had the strongest overall showing, picking up a total of 68 Orchid recognitions.
 
 
by Rick Pender 06.22.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
next to normal

Stage Door: 'next to normal' Even Better This Year

If you can land a ticket for Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s revival of the Tony Award-winning musical next to normal, that’s what you should be doing this weekend. I saw it on Tuesday night, and it’s even better than it was last September. It’s the story of a woman struggling with schizophrenia and how it affects her family; that might not sound like the stuff that musicals are made of, but it uses the power of a brilliant Rock score to deliver the impact of this story. ETC has reassembled virtually all of its superb cast from last fall, including Jessica Hendy in the central role. Her beleaguered husband is now being played one of our area’s best actors, Bruce Cromer, and his relationship with Hendy makes their pain all the more deeply felt. It’s only around for one more week, so you should do your best to grab a ticket now. Box office: 513-421-3555. ETC’s revival isn’t the only thing worth seeing this weekend. You might check out the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace on the Showboat Majestic. It’s an old chestnut (it was a hit in 1944), but it’s one of the funniest shows you’re likely to see, the tale of an off-kilter pair of elderly maiden aunts who keep their quite normal nephew astonished and scrambling to keep them in line. The kind-hearted women take in boarders, quiet elderly men who are “all alone in the world,” and polish them off with elderberry wine laced with arsenic. They convince their addled brother, who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt, to bury them in the basement by telling him they’re victims of yellow fever who have been digging the Panama Canal. A great show for the whole family, with lots of comic twists. Box office: 513-241-6550. You’ll also find a stage full of laughs at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, which is producing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). You’ll witness mentions of all the Bard’s works — although many are completely unrecognizable, thanks the three buffoonish characters who undertake the task. The second act is a wild send-up of Hamlet that involves the audience. Order your tickets online, and there’s an automatic buy-one, get-one offer available. Website: www.cincyshakes.com. Don’t forget to look in out-of-the-way places for good summer theater entertainment: At Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Ky., you’ll find the Tony Award-winning musical The Producers, the first outing by C.A.S.T. (Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre), the brainchild of Jason Burgess, a one-time directing intern at Ensemble Theatre who’s now an award-winning teacher at Highlands. The hilarious show about putting on a musical so bad that the guys doing it can abscond with all the investments will be onstage through July 1, with performances at the high school (2400 Memorial Parkway, Fort Thomas) on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets (only $10): www.showtix4u.com (or at the door). Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
 
 

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Ensemble offers 'next to normal' through July 1

0 Comments · Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati produced next to normal last September with considerable success, selling out most of its performances in one of the show’s first productions following its Broadway success. Based on its strong audience appeal, ETC is giving its production a brief revival, onstage through July 1.  

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