1 Comment · Saturday, December 1, 2012
Jersey Boys was a hit at the Aronoff in 2008, and Broadway Series subscribers have been asking for a return visit since then, with good reason.
Ensemble Theatre offers a colorful, energetic take on classic tale
0 Comments · Friday, November 30, 2012
Alice in Wonderland works best when treated as an
ensemble show, rather than a show about a dreamy little girl meeting a
cast of supporting characters. This show does exactly that.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:42 AM | Permalink
So Thanksgiving was early this year, and that means that not only
retailers but all of our local theaters have fired their starting guns
earlier than usual with family-friendly holiday shows. That began with
Ensemble Theatre's opening of Alice in Wonderland on Nov. 28, and
Cinderella at the Covedale, A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse and New Edgecliff's Santaland Diaries (newly paired with The 12 Dates of Christmas) using a new venue, the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater.
But before you start wearing your Christmas sweaters and holiday socks, I
have a few non-seasonal but highly entertaining productions you should
Let's start with Cincinnati Shakespeare's staging of
The Importance of Being Earnest.
This is a classic comedy from 1895 by Oscar Wilde, but don't think
there's anything old and musty about it. The production of this witty,
romantic tale of harmless manipulation bubbles with laughter and
sprightly performances. I gave it a Critic's Pick here and I suspect
it will be another sold-out run for Cincy Shakes, which has assembled a
gangbuster season. You should note that it's only onstage through Dec.
16, so if you want to see it, don't wait too long. (As of the 16th it
will be supplanted by Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some), Cincy Shakes' holiday offering.) Box office: 513-381-2273 x.1.
And if smiles without holiday trimming are something you seek, I highly recommend the touring production of
This is the true story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Pop stars
from the 1960s, and the show is stuffed full of their memorable,
tuneful hits. The four leading actors faithfully recreate the
group's close harmonies and Valli's soaring falsetto tenor — he's one of
the great Pop vocalists of all time, and Nick Cosgrove nails the role.
Although the history of these four singers has its ups and downs, the
story is told with a sense of wry humor (and numerous F-bombs) that
keeps things light and entertaining. Audiences have been clamoring for
Broadway in Cincinnati to bring this show back since it appeared at the
Aronoff back in 2008, and tickets are selling fast. Box office:
Hank Williams: Lost Highway at the
Playhouse's Shelterhouse stage. (Review here.) It's another genuine
reincarnation of a singer who made an indelible mark on the world of Pop
music. Box office: 513-421-3888.
The Emery Theatre reclaims its spot in the local and national spotlight
0 Comments · Tuesday, November 20, 2012
If the historic Emery Theatre had a voice,
it was a distant echo ricocheting off of boarded-up buildings and
dissolving into the background, unheard by Cincinnati for the nine years
its doors were closed. Lately, however, the Emery is a murmur growing
louder among art enthusiasts.
by Rick Pender
The weekends around Thanksgiving tend to offer fewer theater opportunities than most since lots of companies are readying holiday productions that open near the end of the month. (In fact, from Nov. 28 to 30, eight shows will open!) But that doesn't mean you should look elsewhere for entertainment.First and foremost is Street Scene at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, the kick-off of a year-long celebration of works by Kurt Weill. It's a dramatic American opera in two acts, a story set in a mid-century Manhattan neighborhood. It's a massive undertaking involving hundreds of students from several CCM departments; Steven Goldstein is directing, and the performances will be musically conducted by Mark Gibson. The opera is based on Elmer Rice's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama; it's sometimes compared to Porgy & Bess, presenting a wide range of multi-ethnic characters and two intertwined love stories. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets ($17-$30): 513-556-4183.A feisty young theater company, Untethered Theatre, is producing a dark comedy, John Patrick Shanley's Savage in Limbo in a storefront theater on Ludlow Avenue, Clifton Performance Theater. The performers are young and the characters they portray are young adults who haven't yet taken hold of life. The venue is intimate, recreating a bar where the characters gather, and the audience sits amidst the action. Tickets ($15): 513-938-0599. If you show up at 7:55 p.m. you might get lucky and score a rush seat for $5.Two community theaters are wrapping up productions of classics that ought to be worth seeing: Cincinnati Music Theatre is presenting Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Tony Award-winning musical from 1970, Company, at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theatre. Tickets: ($20-$22): 513-621-2787 … And Footlighters' is finishing up a run of Thornton Wilder's 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Our Town, at the Stained Glass Theatre in Newport. Tickets ($20): 859-652-3849.Finally, if you want an evening of great music with a bit of true life biography, check out Hank Williams: Lost Highway, at the Cincinnati Playhouse. This one runs through the holidays, but tickets will be hard to come by in December, so this would be a perfect weekend to take in a performance of two dozen songs by the guy who blended the Blues with "Hillbilly" tunes and more or less created Country Western music in the early 1950s. You'll know lots of the tunes. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 10:05 AM | Permalink
Looking ahead at Know Theatre's holiday schedule and beyond
In my recent Curtain Call column,
I talked about collaboration and made some mention of past ventures by
Know Theatre. After a period of self-examination covered in an earlier
column ("Big-Picture Thinking at Know Theatre," issue of Oct. 24), the Over-the-Rhine company has now shared some of its programming plans for the holidays and the months ahead.
For the holidays, they'll produce The Naughty List,
hosted by Ronda Androski and her great staff at Arnold's Bar &
Grill downtown and featuring the talent of OTR Improv, one of the groups
Know has nurtured with its Jackson Street Market. They'll take holiday
memories from those in attendance as they recreate holiday movies and
tell you how your life would have been different if you had received
that special gift you yearned for. The fun will be happeing in Arnold's
courtyard on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings from Dec. 2 to 30.
Tickets will be $15 in advance and $18 at the door.
Know will also offer The Apocalypse Show!
for two nights on its home stage at 1120 Jackson St.. Since the world
is scheduled to come to an end on Dec. 21, 2012 (according to the Mayan
calendar), Know will produce a variety show to end all variety shows on
Dec. 20 and 21. There will be sketch comedy, predictions, guest
appearances, "gratuitous drinking and answers to all of your apocalypse
FAQs." Dec. 20 will be a fundraiser (tickets: $50), despite the funny
come-on that you should bring all your money, since it will be worth
nothing the next day! (If you come to the performance on Dec. 21, you
only need to scrape together $15 in advance or $18 at the door.)
Assuming that the world really isn't ending on Dec. 21,
Know will co-host its annual New Year's Eve event with CityBeat, the
Speakeasy Party from 8 p.m. on Dec. 31 (to 1 a.m.). Know typically
attracts 300 well-dressed guests for this event, and everyone has fun
with casino games, food, dancing to a DJ and a live band, martinis and a
champagne toast at midnight.
After all this fun stuff, Know will get down to some serious theater — presenting Andrew Bovell's "best new play of 2010," When the Rain Stops Falling
(Feb. 8-March 16, 2013). It's another partnership, with the production
being staged by Brian Isaac Phillips, artistic director at Cincinnati
Shakespeare Company. (Bovell's Speaking in Tongues had a great
production at the Cincinnati Playhouse last season.) The show uses an
intricate fabric of overlapping connections, moving between several
generations between 1959 and 2039 and between London and Australia. Acts
and sins of the past are connected to three generations that follow.
More will be following, including an unnamed production
running from April 5 to May 12. Sometime in late April (date TBA), just
in advance of the tenth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival (May 28-June
8, 2013), Know will host the 2013 United States Association of Fringe
Festivals Conference. "We're honored to have been selected to host this
year's conference," says Know's Producing Artistic Director Eric
Vosmeier. "It's an amazing opportunity to work on ideas and issues at
the core of all Fringe Festivals. Every time I have been to a
conference, the Cincinnati Fringe is better for it. We can't wait to
show off our city to festival producers from all over the United
One more note: Know is selling its version of a
subscription, Flex Passes. But these have evolved: You can purchase six
flex passes for $90. Valid for most Know productions, they do not
expire. (If a show ticket has a higher price than the pass, you can use
your pass and just pay the difference.) Know's website will designate:
"Flex passes are valid for this event." When you run out of tickets (and
you surely will), you simply need to buy another pass.
Know's Fringe Festival has promoted itself with the slogan
"Weird, like us." And they're living up to that mantra in a way that
should appeal to its supporters and more.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:01 AM | Permalink
There's plenty of good theater available around town in the next few days, including the just-opened production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway at the Cincinnati Playhouse, as well as Romeo and Juliet and Titus Andronicus, which finish their runs at Cincinnati Shakespeare this weekend. But for this week's edition of Stage Door, I'm recommending three productions that might not be on your radar.One of the big hits of the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, Grim and Fischer, is back for performances on Friday and Saturday. It was only offered three times back in June, and a lot of people missed the unusual "full-face mask" show about death (aka Grim, as in "Grim Reaper") matching wits with elderly Mrs. Fischer, who's not ready to take her leave of this world. Everyone who saw the wordless piece raved about it, so Know Theatre (they guys who present the Fringe) have brought back the two performers from Wonderheads Theatre in Portland, Ore., to give us three more chances, Friday and Saturday evening at 8 p.m. plus a 3 p.m. Saturday matinee. I'm not missing their 50-minute performance this time around. Tickets ($12): 513-300-5669.Community theater often brings back classics that audiences love, and Footlighters (you can find them at Newport's Stained Glass Theatre, right across the street from the York Street Cafe) is doing just that with Thornton Wilder's 1938 Pulitzer Prize winner, Our Town. But don't think you've been there and done that, since this production takes several familiar conventions and freshens them. The "Stage Manager," usually a folksy older guy, is played by a woman, and many of the references to New England life in the early 1900s are minimized, which makes the show feel a lot more universal and relevant to life today. Through Nov. 18. Tickets ($20): 859-652-3849. And my third recommendation is from another community theater, one that really knows its way around musicals: Cincinnati Music Theatre is staging Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company, a Tony winner from 1970 — and again in 2007 when the Cincinnati Playhouse's revival of the story of Bobby and his married friends moved to Broadway and was named the year's best musical revival. It has a brilliant and energetic score, great comic scenes and songs you're likely to know, including "Another Hundred People," "The Ladies Who Lunch" and "Being Alive." CMT presents its shows at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Through Nov. 17. Tickets ($22): 513-621-2787.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 10:05 AM | Permalink
If you can tear yourself way from TV ads for the
presidential election this weekend, you'll find plenty of good theater
to distract you, starting with a production at Covington's Carnegie
Center opening Friday night. It's Under a Red Moon, a
world premiere co-production with Dayton’s Human Race Theatre Company.
Michael Slade's taut psychological thriller just spent nearly a month
onstage at the Loft Theatre in Dayton, so it's already a seasoned
production. A dramatized psychological interview in the same vein as Silence of the Lambs,
it’s based on the chilling true story of England’s notorious “Acid Bath
Murderer” from a half-century ago. The play features Broadway actors
Bradford Cover as the criminal and Dee Pelletier as the psychologist
trying to get inside his head. Box office: 859-957-1940.
A different set of thrills are available from Cincinnati Shakespeare
Company, which is staging Shakespeare's bloody revenge tragedy,
Titus Andronicus. This
show requires a lot of hand-to-hand combat, blood and gore — presented
by CSC with ghastly zeal. Just as creepy tales like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween
have chilled film audiences in recent years, this kind of play was all
the rage in the early 1590s. (CSC director Jeremy Dubin calls it “a
snuff film in blank verse.”) It's especially fun to watch veteran Nick
Rose as a Roman general who gets into a grotesque battle of wills with
the amoral Queen of the Goths, played by Miranda McGee. The awful things
they they do to one another's families make for some delicious,
hair-raising storytelling. Also onstage at Cincy Shakes is Romeo & Juliet,
with the central characters played as hormonal, irrational teens. Sara
Clark is especially good as Juliet. Both productions tell their tale
through more contemporary visual filters — R&J's characters wear contemporary clothing and are surrounded with music of the here and now, while Titus
gets a "Steampunk" treatment that presumes that the Victorian
ingenuity of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells extended its steam-driven,
mechanical technology to the present. Both approaches give new vitality
to the shows. (Review here.) Box office: 513-381-2273.
Also worth seeing is a funny, touching tale of growing up in Depression-era Brooklyn, Neil Simon's
Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Cincinnati Playhouse (513-381-3888)).
(Review here.) It's the first time that the Playhouse has staged a
work by Simon, one of America's most prolific playwrights of the 20th
century. Box office: 513-421-3888
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:18 AM | Permalink
My schedule prevented me from making it to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s opening of Romeo & Juliet back on Oct. 11, and I hadn’t caught up yet with CSC’s annual Halloween-season tarting up of a Shakespearean tragedy to be offered within the run of the mainstage show. This year it’s the rarely produced revenge piece, Titus Andronicus, presented on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings as well as Saturday matinees through Nov. 11, the same day that Romeo & Juliet wraps up. Neither production could be termed “traditional,” although they are sharing the same set, designed by Andrew Hungerford, and both shows are effectively lit by Gregory Bredestege.Although the two plays are located at the opposite poles of familiarity in the canon of Shakespeare — R&J has a plot that everyone knows, while Titus is almost never staged — they have some elements in common. Both tales are driven by thoughtless acts that fuel an unquenchable desire for revenge. The young lovers’ meet their ends in a tragedy of miscommunication and bad timing; the fictional Roman general, Titus, and those around him find themselves caught up in a horrifying series of events brought on by greed for power and a desire for one-upmanship. In fact, both plays are the product of a young Shakespeare, not yet 30 years old. They were probably first performed just a year or so apart: Titus was his first tragedy, initially presented in January 1594; R&J made its debut sometime in 1595. Titus is a revenge tragedy, wildly popular plays that were all the rage in the early 1590s. (CSC’s director for Titus, Jeremy Dubin, aptly calls it “a snuff film in blank verse.”). R&J is a paean to impetuous adolescent love, and until things start to go wrong it’s as much a sweet comedy as it is a story barreling toward a tragic ending. The humor in Titus is dark and twisted; that in R&J intensifies the tragedy. In both cases, we see the work of a writer who knew how to manipulate the emotions of his audience. Romeo & Juliet. Staged by Brian Isaac Phillips, CSC’s artistic director, this production has been modernized. The inhabitants of “fair Verona” wear contemporary clothes, and their entertainment and behavior has a 21st-century overlay. But rather than trying to twist it too far out of its original context in a Renaissance town in Italy, I’d say this feels more like an alternate reality. Billy Chace plays the brash Mercutio, Romeo’s kinsman, as a madcap clubber, always ready for a good time with his cronies Benvolio (Jessie Wray Goodman) and Balthasar (Maggie Lou Rader). The masked ball at the Capulets’ estate where Romeo (Ian Bond) first spies Juliet (Sara Clark) begins with delicate chamber music but quickly devolves to thumping club tunes.But this filter does not diminish the nature of the central characters. Both Bond and Clark play their roles like the hormonal teens they are meant to be. Juliet is not quite 14, and Romeo is perhaps 16. When we first meet him, he is pining for Rosaline, a love we never meet — we only hear Romeo’s idealized whining that she’s spurned him. He wants to be in love, and she’s his most likely prospect. He quickly transfers his affections to the sweetly innocent Juliet, and the petite Clark gives her the kind of breathless silliness that is endearing if not enduring. Neither of the lovers is meant to experience love in any profound way: They are swept up in the passion of youth — they go from meeting to marriage in a blur of four or five scenes. Bond’s Romeo spends a lot of time agonizing over his frustrations, and he doesn’t seem to mature much, despite the seriousness of the situation. Clark’s Juliet has more opportunity to show growth and personal recognition at the conundrum life has presented her. Her loving but thoughtless nurse (Sherman Fracher), her domineering, unthinking father (Jim Hopkins) and her vain, superficial mother (Jennifer Joplin) make matters worse by forcing her toward an arranged marriage. The well-intentioned Friar Lawrence (Jeff Groh, more like a hippie raising strange herbs than a devout priest) aids the young lovers, but like the nurse, exacerbates a tough situation with his meddling. Clark is stunningly honest in her role, and the heat between her and Bond is palpable, if uncomplicated — as it should be for a couple of teenagers in heat.The production as a lot of stage combat, and seeing it two weeks into its run let me see how capable Cincy Shakes can be. I had heard things were a little rough on the opening weekend, but there was no evidence of that at the performance I saw, which was thoroughly enjoyed by the full house.Titus Andronicus. This show requires a lot of hand-to-hand combat and considerably more blood than Romeo & Juliet. It was all done with ghastly if over-the-top realism. The plot is both simple and ridiculous by contemporary standards: Titus (Nick Rose) is a successful general who turns down the chance to become emperor. Things go bad for him and his family when his prisoner Tamora, Queen of the Goths (Miranda McGee in a showy, sexy role), gets hitched to the emperor Saturninus (played as a foppish, preening fool by Justin McComb). She wreaks some vengeance on Titus’s offspring, masterminded by her scheming lover Aaron (Darnell Benjamin) who steers her fawning, selfish sons Chiron (Travis Emery) and Demetrius (Zach Schute) to some vile acts. After gruesome violence on Titus’s daughter Lavinia (Maggie Lou Rader), a grief-crazed Titus figures out some even more grotesque ways to fight back.This is all spelled out in the script and played out on CSC’s stage with a lot of gore and stage blood — decapitated heads and severed hands — for instance, and extended to the brink of insanity lengths in the second half with Titus’s missing left hand replaced by a metal forearm that accommodates various implements from a fork to a corkscrew to a set of mechanical knife blades (like the electric knife I use to carve the Thanksgiving turkey). You can be assured these are used for violent purposes, and Nick Rose, a CSC veteran (in fact, one of its founders), revels in Titus’s madness — with some manic behavior, including bemoaning the “murder” of a fly in a blackly humorous moment. Rose is having a ball with this juicy role.Director Jeremy Dubin has provided a different sort of filter for this interpretation of Titus Andronicus, that of the sci-fi genre of “Steampunk,” which presumes that the Victorian ingenuity of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells in the 19th century extended its steam-driven, mechanical technology prevailed in the 20th and 21st centuries. Accordingly, costumes are a curious, colorful mishmash of Victorian styles — cutaway coats, vests, goggles, belts and bustiers — and six video monitors around the theater display show cards offering the gist of scenes with quaint, tongue-in-cheek summaries. Each act began with n actor attaching a hand crank to a gear at stage right to wind up the mechanism of the show. Similarly, when certain offstage action needed to be represented, a servant bearing a kind of magic lantern projector came on to reveal a scene, which the audience saw on the monitors. (The device was clever; I wish it had been more fully and frequently integrated into the action.)Titus Andronicus is not a great play, but Cincy Shakes — and especially actors Nick Rose, Miranda McGee, Darnell Benjamin and Maggie Lou Rader — make this production great fun to watch, providing you’re not too squeamish. It is, after all, a bloody mess, intentionally so and perfect for the thrill-seekers of late October.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:35 AM | Permalink
You'll have to pick and choose this weekend because
there's so much theater onstage. In addition to our professional
theaters, it's worth checking out production at universities: Tonight
through Sunday, CCM's esteemed musical theater program is offering the
cult favorite Chess, with music by ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus
and Benny Andersson. The story is set in Bangkok and Budapest during a
mid-1970s world chess championship — and it's driven by gamesmanship
between nations, between lovers and, of course, between chess players. I
saw the opening on Thursday, and it's a BIG show with a gigantic cast.
Several leading roles are double cast (with more juniors than seniors,
in fact, which bodes well for CCM productions for this season and next).
In particular, Matthew Paul Hill, playing the Russian grand master
Anatoly, lifted the roof of Corbett Auditorium with his powerful
baritone voice singing the stirring "Anthem," the Act 1 finale. Tickets
($30) Box office: 513-556-4183. At Northern Kentucky University you'll a production of Royal Gambit
by German playwright Hermann Gressieker (translated into English in the
late 1950s). The subject is King Henry VIII and his six wives, and this
looks to be a beautifully costumed show, featuring senior Seth Wallen
in the leading role. Tickets ($14). Box office: 859-572-5464.
Neil Simon's funny and endearing Brighton Beach Memoirs is
onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse. I gave it a Critic's Pick (review here),
and I'm sure audiences will love this sweet portrait of growing up in
Brooklyn in the 1930s, where a loving but fractious family copes with
hard times. It's told from the perspective of Eugene, a precocious
adolescent (he's really Simon as a 15-year-old), who takes notes on his
family's behavior. Well acted and beautifully staged. Box office: 513-421-3888l.
My schedule hasn't permitted me to see several shows that are getting
good notices, including recognition from the folks evaluating
productions for the League of Cincinnati Theatres. I'm catching up this
evening with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, which is offering two shows
Romeo & Juliet is its mainstage show, and
Sara Clark is getting high marks for her portrait of romantic but
tragic young love. Brian Phillips' staging picked up an LCT nod, and the
show received an overall recommendation from LCT. On the evenings when R&J
is not onstage, there's another Shakespeare work for thrill seekers,
specially selected and staged for the Halloween season: the bloody, gory
tale of revenge, Titus Andronicus. Veteran actor Nick
Rose plays a crazed Roman general, and just about everyone I've heard
from says his performance is memorable. (It earned him an LCT
nomination, too.) Box office: 513-381-2273.
This weekend is the final one for
Mrs. Mannerly at Ensemble Theatre. When Harper Lee reviewed this one for CityBeat (review here),
she gave it a Critic's Pick, and I agree wholeheartedly. (LCT named it a
recommended production, too.) CEA Hall of Fame actress Dale Hodges is
great fun to watch as a strict etiquette teacher in 1967, and Raymond
McAnally plays all the other characters — a bunch of kids who are
learning how to behave in a "mannerly" way. It's funny from start to
finish, but there's a heart-warming message within the story. Definitely
worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3555.
At Clifton Performance Theatre, Clifton Players are staging
A Bright New Boise,
which also picked up an LCT recommendation. I haven't seen it, but the
show won an Obie Award (that's for outstanding off-Broadway plays) in
2011, and it has a strong cast. This is a newish venue that's
specializing in "storefront theater." Should be worth supporting.
Tickets ($20): 513-861-7469.