WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 
by Rick Pender 04.06.2012
at 09:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Several Quality Weekend Offerings

Last night I attended Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Grapes of Wrath, which opened a week ago and runs through April 29. It’s a powerful theatrical interpretation of John Steinbeck’s grim recounting of a Depression-era family of Oklahoma sharecroppers driven from home by ecological and economic disasters. They make an arduous trek to California in vain hope of employment and a better life. The show calls for an ensemble cast, and CSC uses more than 20 actors to pull it off convincingly. The first act revolves around the Joads’ agonizing trip in a dilapidated truck; the second act portrays the dismal conditions of unemployment and mistreatment once they arrive. It’s a sad reflection of life in the 1930s, as well as a powerful reminder that life has not improved for many Americans some 80 years later. The production is made all the more relevant by folksy musical interludes performed live by some of the actors. A downer of a story, but definitely worth seeing. Here's a link to my review. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1. Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, opened last Saturday. I haven’t seen it yet, but the production has a positive buzz. (It’s onstage through May 12.) Box office: 513-300-5669. Thanks to spot-on casting of the four actors who bring Kim Rosenstock’s new play Tigers Be Still to life at the Cincinnati Playhouse, the show about people dealing with depression is charming, funny, optimistic and even heart-warming. It’s about a young woman with a recently earned degree in art therapy; she’s been down in the dumps about finding work, but not as much as her mom who’s gained weight and her sister who’s been dumped by her fiancé. She’s starting a new job thanks to her mom’s long-ago boyfriend, now a middle school principal. He has issues of his own — from a slacker son to anxiety about a tiger that’s escaped from the local zoo. Sound zany? Well, it is — as well as entertaining. The League of Cincinnati Theatres singled out this production’s sound design by Vincent Olivieri for an award. One panelist wrote, “On a very small stage, scenes took place in a school gym, drugstore, office, closet, outdoors and in the living spaces of two houses. Except for the main set, capturing the essence of these scenes was limited to a couple of props and pieces of furniture — and the sound!” Through April 15. Box office: 513-421-3888. There’s nothing profound about The Addams Family, onstage at the Aronoff Center in downtown Cincinnati through a Sunday matinee. The touring musical is derived from a 1960s TV series (and subsequent movies), based on on droll, mordant cartoons by Charles Addams, originally in The New Yorker. The show is a faithful reproduction of a pop culture icon; in fact, it begins with the sprightly theme from the TV show, complete with finger-snaps. It has a silly story about willful love and romance, but the entertainment comes from seeing the familiar characters come to life. The new musical numbers are largely clever, and the cast — which includes 1999 CCM grad Sara Gettelfinger as Morticia — is top-notch. Here's a link to my recent review. Tickets: 800-982-2787.Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
 
 

The Grapes of Wrath (Review)

Onstage version of Steinbeck's classic reminds that life hasn't improved for many since Depression

0 Comments · Friday, April 6, 2012
John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath, is a grim recounting of a Depression-era family of Oklahoma sharecroppers driven from home by ecological and economic disasters. In the late 1980s theater artist Frank Galati adapted it into a powerful stage production, one you can see throughout April at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It’s a downer of a story, but definitely worth seeing.   
by Rick Pender 03.30.2012
Posted In: Theater at 10:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 3-28 - tigers be still - cincy playhouse - (l-r) joanne tucker, eric nelsen & lindsey kyler - photo by sandy underwood..widea

Stage Door: Entertainments For All Ages

Traditional shows, Cirque du Soleil and openings at Know and Cincy Shakes

Thanks to spot-on casting of the four actors who bring Kim Rosenstock’s new play Tigers Be Still to life at the Cincinnati Playhouse, the show about people dealing with depression is charming, funny, optimistic and even heart-warming. It’s about a young woman with a recently earned degree in art therapy; she’s been down in the dumps about finding work, but not as much as her mom who’s gained weight and her sister who’s been dumped by her fiancé. She’s starting a new job thanks to her mom’s long-ago boyfriend, now a middle school principal. He has issues of his own — from a slacker son to anxiety about a tiger that’s escaped from the local zoo. Sound zany? Well, it is — as well as entertaining. The League of Cincinnati Theatres singled out this production’s sound design by Vincent Olivieri for an award. One panelist wrote, “On a very small stage, scenes took place in a school gym, drugstore, office, closet, outdoors and in the living spaces of two houses. Except for the main set, capturing the essence of these scenes was limited to a couple of props and pieces of furniture — and the sound!” Through April 15. Box office: 513-421-3888. There’s a final performance on Saturday afternoon of Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale, presented by The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. The world premiere musical by composer Janet Vogt and writer Mark Friedman has received an award from the league of Cincinnati Theatres for its scenic design by David Centers. Tickets: 513-569-8080, x13. His design for the show was described by LCT judges as “simple and very well executed in a style that was great for the play.” In addition to the show’s signature tower, the set also boasts a forest that “wasn’t too dank, dark and dismal, but instead had personality.” (Centers, a veteran local designer and a graduate of the School for Creative and Performing Arts, received an LCT Award in the same category earlier this year for his work Disney’s My Son Pinocchio Jr.) Tickets: 513-569-8080, x13. On Wednesday I attended the Cirque du Soleil production of Dralion at the Bank of Kentucky Arena, adjacent to Northern Kentucky University. It’s another extravaganza of strength and showmanship, athleticism and artistry. This struck me as a somewhat more compact show than I’ve seen in the past: The talent is just as great, but the concept — connections between East and West — is pretty vaporous. But there are three wonderful clowns, and several of the performances do things that make you say, “How can a human body do that?” Balancing on one hand, flying through the air on a hoop, skipping rope in a human pyramid — it’s amazing stuff. It’s being presented through Sunday: Lots of available seats on opening night, so I’m guessing you can still find tickets for all performances. Through Sunday. Tickets: 800-745-3000 Two excellent productions wrap up this weekend. The Cincinnati Playhouse’s unique staging of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical Merrily We Roll Along, which uses actors who also play musical instruments has its final performances on Saturday. I gave the production a Critic's Pick; Merrily is only infrequently staged, so this is a chance not to be missed. Box office: 513-421-3888. Ensemble Theatre concludes the run of Time Stands Still, a fine drama with a great ensemble cast directed by Michael Evan Haney. Final performance is on Sunday. This tale of burned-out journalists and last gasps at relationships by Donald Margulies, a Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist, also earned a Critic's Pick. Box office: 513-421-3555. Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, opens on Saturday. (It’s onstage through May 12.) Word has it that tickets are already selling fast. Box office: 513-300-5669. This weekend is also the opening for Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of The Grapes of Wrath, which runs through April 29. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
 
 

The Addams Family (Review)

Touring Broadway production uses oddball characters to show the dark side of life

1 Comment · Wednesday, March 28, 2012
When you base a musical on legendary cartoons, you better be sure that the original material is referenced and that it delivers the same level of humor. That means more in the way of faithfulness than originality, but who cares when it’s The Addams Family? The touring production of the recent Broadway show, currently onstage at the Aronoff Center, delivers on humor, entertainment and a faithful recreation of the oddball characters who revel in the dark side of life.  
by Rick Pender 03.26.2012
Posted In: Theater at 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Cincinnati Playhouse Releases 2012-2013 Schedule

Incoming artistic director chooses new works and shows for the entire family

The Cincinnati Playhouse’s incoming artistic director, Blake Robison, today announced the shows to be produced for the 2012-2013 season. Robison takes over from Ed Stern, who retires on June 30 after 20 years setting the course for the respected regional theater. During Stern’s tenure, the Playhouse has twice won Tony Awards — in 2004 as an outstanding regional theater, and again in 2007 when its production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company moved to Broadway and was named the season’s best revival of a musical. Robison’s new season looks a little different from seasons that Stern has assembled in the past. In particular, he’s included two shows that offer journeys for the entire family — a big swashbuckling adaptation of The Three Musketeers (by Ken Ludwig, who wrote Lend Me a Tenor) to open the season on the Marx stage, and a seafaring expedition, Shipwrecked! An Entertainment – The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (by Donald Margulies, whose usual fare is dramas — including Time Stands Still, currently onstage at Ensemble Theatre.The season's schedule will include two world premieres, Abigail/1702, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s script based on a central character from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. On the Shelterhouse stage, Robison will offer Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Leveling Up, about four twentysomethings mired in video games who find the real world a lot more complicated. (Laufer’s End Days was presented by Ensemble Theatre a year ago.) We’ll also see Dayton native Daniel Beaty perform his one-man show, Through the Night, in which he plays six African-American men, ranging in age from 10 to 60. The show recently earned positive reviews as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle award nominations in New York City.Robison has several selected classic plays for the Marx by two legendary playwrights whose plays, I’m astonished to say, have never been produced at the Playhouse. Next fall will see Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical script, Brighton Beach Memoirs, set in 1937. Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful (a television script best known for a 1985 movie version starring Geraldine Page), the story of an aging woman determined to return to her childhood home for one last visit, will be staged using African-American actors. Two more classic tales will be produced on the Marx stage: A Christmas Carol returns for its 22nd holiday season, and a new stage version of Double Indemnity, Billy Wilder’s spellbinding noir thriller from 1944.Rounding out the season will be two Shelterhouse productions. For November and December, Robison has scheduled Hank Williams: Lost Highway, a show about the legendary Country artist created and staged by Randal Myler, who brought Love, Janis to the same space back in 2005. I suspect that Karen Zacarias’s The Book Club Play, a comedy about books and the people who love them, will be popular with audiences. It’s the story of a group that becomes the subject of a documentary with surprising results.On the brink of his first season, Robison says, “It is an honor and a privilege to take the reins as the Playhouse’s new artistic director. To me, there is so much to celebrate here at the Playhouse — from the tremendous legacy of Ed Stern to the unlimited possibilities before us. What excites me most about joining the Playhouse family is the vibrant role that this theater plays within the region. The doors to the Playhouse are wide open, and we aim to invite as many people as possible inside.”Here’s the season rundown in chronological order: The Three Musketeers (Marx Theatre, Sept. 1-29, 2012)Through the Night (Shelterhouse Theatre, Sept. 22-Oct. 21, 2012)Brighton Beach Memoirs (Marx Theatre, Oct. 13-Nov. 10, 2012)Hank Williams: Lost Highway (Shelterhouse Theatre, Nov. 3-Dec. 30, 2012)A Christmas Carol (Marx Theatre, Nov. 29-Dec. 30, 2012)Abigail/1702 (Marx Theatre, Jan. 19-Feb. 17, 2013)Leveling Up (Shelterhouse Theatre, Feb. 9-March 10, 2013)The Trip to Bountiful (Marx Theatre, March 9-April 7, 2013)The Book Club Play (Shelterhouse Theatre, March 23-April 28, 2013)Double Indemnity (Marx Theatre, April 20-May 18, 2013)Shipwrecked! An Entertainment – The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as told by Himself) (Shelterhouse Theatre, May 11-June 16, 2013)
 
 

Tigers Be Still (Review)

Kim Rosenstock's dysfunctional characters make for an entertaining slice of modern life

0 Comments · Monday, March 26, 2012
I read Kim Rosenstock’s Tigers Be Still before I saw the production currently onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. I confess that I found it amusing but not hilarious, perhaps even a tad predictable. I didn’t anticipate that with solid direction by Rob Ruggiero and spot-on casting, Rosenstock’s script manages to be charming, funny, optimistic and perhaps even heart-warming.   
by Rick Pender 03.25.2012
Posted In: Theater at 08:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Lifting the Curtain (Well, a Corner of It) at the Playhouse

Playhouse will stage world premiere of 'Abigail/1702'

Around noon on Monday, the Cincinnati Playhouse will announcement its 2012-2013 season, the first mapped out by someone other than Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern in 20 years. Blake Robison takes over for the retiring Stern on July 1, so he’s had the daunting task of following in those big (and very successful) footsteps. Stern liked to present work by up-and-coming playwrights, and Robison has the same inclination, although as someone a generation younger than Stern, he has his own connections and ideas. He’s landed a world premiere by one of the most intriguing young playwrights in the United States, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. The show is called Abigail/1702, and we’ll see it early in 2013 (Jan. 19-Feb. 17). It’s Aguirre-Sacasa’s imaginative exploration of what became of Abigail Williams, the young girl who sets in motion the Salem witch trials portrayed in Arthur Miller’s classic play from 1952, The Crucible. The new work, set a decade after Abigail accused many people of witchcraft, portrays her in her late 20s, struggling to atone for her sins, the ones portrayed in that memorable play — as well as darker ones that live in her heart. As she cares for a young sailor on the brink of death, a stranger from her past finds her and sets her on a quest for redemption. Robison, who will direct the production, staged another work by Aguirre-Sacasa, his adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that proved to be a bit hit at the Roundhouse Theatre in Maryland, where Robison served as artistic director. “When I found out that I was coming to the Playhouse, one of the first calls I made was to Roberto because I value his voice as an artist so much. I told him, ‘Send me whatever you’re working on right now.’ He sent me this play and I read it. I texted him and said, ‘You wrote an awesome play! I want to do it.’” Robison admires the writer’s breadth of work: He’s written for Marvel Comics (Marvel Knights, Spider-Man and The Stand), for television (as a staff writer for HBO’s Big Love and the hit Fox series Glee) as well as nearly a dozen plays. “One of the fun things for me as the incoming artistic director,” Robison told me recently, “is to bring new voices to the community and to introduce some writers who I have a wonderful relationship with who haven’t been seen yet in Cincinnati.” Robison loves Aguirre-Sacasa’s new script. “He has a gift for dialogue, and a highly visual sense to his writing. This play is quite unlike any of his other plays, quite unlike anything I’ve seen onstage before. To go back into our collective consciousness and pluck this famous figure from the dramatic canon and imagine what her life must be like 10 years down the line is a wonderfully creative act.” Not to mention a great way for Robison to define his own artistic tastes for Cincinnati audiences. Keep an eye on CityBeat’s Arts Blog tomorrow for more news of the Playhouse’s upcoming season.
 
 
by Rick Pender 03.24.2012
Posted In: Theater at 11:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
onstage 3-9 merrily  review image - photo sandy underwood.widea

Stage Door: More Love for 'Merrily'

Ensemble Theatre, NKU and Children's Theater also have quality offerings

Last Sunday evening I gave a lecture prior to the Cincinnati Playhouse performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. I stuck around to see the show again (I attended the opening on March 8 in order to review it for CityBeat). I gave the show a Critic’s Pick, but empty seats on Sunday reminded me that a theater critic’s opinion is not necessarily the only endorsement needed for a show to sell tickets. Although this is a fine production, several reasons come to mind: The show is not well known; if people do know it, they’ve heard it was a flop when it had a brief Broadway run in 1981. John Doyle’s production shows little evidence of the latter and demonstrates amply that there’s much to be appreciated. But there’s not been much buzz around Merrily at the Playhouse, despite the work of Doyle and his excellent cast. The upshot is tickets are still available for most performances, through March 31. Doyle inventively staged Sondheim’s Company in 2006 at the Playhouse, a production that moved to Broadway and earned a Tony Award. This production uses the same approach: actors provide their own musical accompaniment. It’s a showbiz tale about chasing success at the expense of happiness. We start at the demise of a bond between three former friends who wonder what happened to the “good thing going” they once had. We trace back to their earliest, optimistic moments via great music, brilliant design and excellent performances. If you love musicals, you should see Merrily We Roll Along. I’ve talked with several people who have returned the Playhouse production. (Merrily is not likely to transfer to New York as Company did in 2006. The show was presented by Encores! at New York’s City Center in February, so theater critics have not paid attention to the Cincinnati production as they did with Company in 2006, right after Doyle staged Sweeney Todd on Broadway.) Box office: 513-421-3888 You can’t go wrong with Donald Margulies’ very much in-the-moment drama Time Stands Still at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. It’s the story of two journalists who have been addicted to the adrenalin rush of covering wars. He’s now running away and hiding in film reviews (there’s a touch of post-traumatic stress, it seems, because he’s watching classic horror films all the time), and she’s recovering from injuries that resulted from a roadside bomb blast in Iraq. What’s next for them? Well, that’s what the play is about — a return for more or settling for a calmer, safer life, represented by a happy if unlikely couple who visit them, the photographer’s editor and mentor and his naïve young girlfriend. Four intriguing character studies add up to an evening of thoughtful drama. I gave it a Critic’s Pick; here’s a link to my review. Through April 1. Tickets: 513-421-3555 Northern Kentucky University just opened a production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good. It’s about people sent off to a penal colony in Australia in the 1780s. The governor decides to impose order on the criminals by having them put on a play. It’s not an easy undertaking — but it changes the lives of everyone involved. It’s a play about the power of the arts to humanize people and transform them into something new and better. The show’s original Broadway production in 1991 was nominated for six Tony Awards. It’s one of my favorite scripts, a fine choice for NKU’s drama program, where it’s being staged by Daryl Harris. Through April 1. Tickets: 859-572-5464 Finally, if you’d like to instill some interest in the theater in a couple of kids, take them to one of this weekend’s performances of Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale, presented by The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. It’s a world premiere musical created by composer Janet Vogt and writer Mark Friedman, who wrote How I Became a Pirate, a hit from last season. Performances happen at the nicely renovated Taft Theatre on Saturday and Sunday (as well as March 31). Tickets: 513-569-8080, x13.Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
 
 

Time Stands Still (Review)

Tony Award-nominated drama brings visceral, textured performance to ETC

0 Comments · Friday, March 16, 2012
A photojournalist’s image is framed and captured, a moment of high emotion frozen by the camera lens, a distillation of a larger, often tragic event. Today those events, all too often, are scenes of physical and emotional devastation in war-torn nations. In Donald Margulies’ 2009 play, Time Stands Still, we learn that shooting those images generates addictive adrenaline even as it hardens the soul.   

St. Nicholas (Review)

In search of innocent victims — critics and vampires

3 Comments · Thursday, March 1, 2012
In Irish playwright Conor McPherson's St. Nicholas, Michael Shooner plays a thoroughly nasty theater critic; a writer without  much to say but who enjoys lording his influence over actors and theaters. Most  critics actually love the theater, but not this guy — it’s largely an experience for him to bully people and freeload food and drink on opening nights. He enjoys preying on those who fear him. So perhaps it’s only natural that he ends up in the employ of a coven of vampires.   

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