by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 10:41 AM | Permalink
OK, the holidays are officially here. If you have any strength left after shopping last night and all day today, there are numerous theatrical offerings to consider.On Wednesday night, I attended the opening of a musical version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a touring production at the Aronoff through Sunday. I suspect most everyone knows the story (which certainly resembles A Christmas Carol, with the Grinch replacing Scrooge as the meanie who's taught the meaning of Christmas). This newish musical uses some of the songs from the beloved 1966 animated version of Dr. Seuss's classic 1957 story of the green guy with a heart "two sizes too small." Audiences, in fact, are invited to sing along on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." What's touring is a 90-minute-rendition that's family-friendly, outfitted with wild costumes, technicolor scenery and a gaggle of special effects that include snow inside the Aronoff and festive confetti cannons for the finale. The tale is narrated by the senior citizen version of Max, the Grinch's hapless dog; Bob Lauder has a great baritone voice, a bemused mindset and a great tail that still wags. (He's complimented by and partnered with his eager younger self, played by Andreas Wyatt.) There's a whole raft of happy singing and dancing citizens of Whoville, of course, especially sweet Cindy Lou who wins over the Grinch's meager heart. Two kids alternate in this demanding role; I saw the adorable Jenna Iacono, but I'm sure Piper Birney is just as charming when she's singing "Santa for a Day" and wearing down the Grinch from his nasty ways.As the Grinch, Stefan Karl gets to mug, growl, grimace and just be a general grouch (he does some farting and belching, just to add to his inappropriateness). He's great fun to watch from his first entrance, as "ugly as a cactus," outfitted in something across between newly mown grass, tattered green feathers and seaweed, to his final scene where he's embraced by the Whos. He's so bad he's good. And his story is a fine addition to Thanksgiving weekend from Broadway in Cincinnati. Performances, including several matinees, are at the Aronoff through Sunday evening. Tickets (starting at $28): 513-621-2787Starting tonight (and for the next several weeks), you can also choose between two different productions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The Cincinnati Playhouse returns its beautiful retelling of Scrooge's dark night of the soul for the 23rd consecutive year. If you're a theater fan, it's a pleasure to see Bruce Cromer, one of southwest Ohio's finest actors, in the bah-humbug role. He makes Scrooge such fun, a genuine holiday treat. With all the whiz-bang spinning scenery, ghostly presences and gorgeous Victorian costumes, well, this show is a great dose of holiday sentiment and cheer. Tickets: 513-421-3888.For a different rendition of Dickens' grouch who gets his comeuppance, the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is offering a musical version of A Christmas Carol that's new this season. (In fact, the book and lyrics are by Cincinnati Landmark's Tim Perrino with music by Jeremy Helmes; Perrino directs the show.) West Siders love the Covedale, and I suspect more than a few folks from Cincinnati's supposedly more "refined" side will make the trek to 4990 Glenway Avenue to see this one. Tickets: 513-241-6550.If you prefer some non-holiday entertainment, the Playhouse offers The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), which begins a hysterical two hours with a skit that literally presents the "birth of comedy." (CityBeat review here.) You won't stop laughing until it's over, and I can guarantee some unexpected things along the way — there is a script, but the three performers play fast and loose through the performance, including bringing a few audience members into the merriment. Tickets: 513-421-3888.And if Thanksgiving leaves you overdosed on goodness and sick of being nice, you might want to catch one of the final performances of Bull at Know Theatre. (CityBeat review here.) It's the story of three office workers competing for two jobs — and they're not nice at all. If you're seeking some vicarious nastiness, this is the show for you. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:19 AM | Permalink
The Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Cabaret is a
must-see for anyone who is a fan of musicals. (CityBeat review here.) Kander and Ebb's Tony
Award winner from the late '60s has been brought to the main stage with
inventive verve by veteran Broadway choreographer and director Marsha
Milgrom Dodge. Sure, it's set in 1929 Berlin, populated by amoral
entertainers and Nazis rising to power. But its scrutiny of prejudice
and bigotry in the context of jaunty, thoughtless entertainment is a
fascinating way to bring attention to topics that are timeless. Dodge
has assembled a cast of triple-threats (who can sing, act and dance),
given them choreography rooted in the 1920s, costumed them in period
clothing (and some clever get-ups for the cabaret routines) and set them
spinning on a stage arrayed with Expressionist imagery. It's a winning
combination. Cabaret just opened on Thursday evening; you have until Nov. 16
to catch it, but it's likely to be a hot ticket, so this is a good
weekend to head to Mount Adams. The other choice at the Playhouse, Seven Spots on the Sun,
is in its final weekend on the Shelterhouse stage. It's a powerful
drama set in a Latin American nation, torn asunder by civil war. Serious
theatergoers have been giving this one a thumbs-up. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Shakespeare hasn't gotten around to any Shakespeare plays yet this
season, but no one's complaining. Last weekend they opened a moving
production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, featuring
top-notch performances by Jeremy Dubin and Jim Hopkins as a pair of
Depression Era migrant works who have to stay one step ahead of trouble
because man-child Lennie (Hopkins) doesn't know his own strength and has
emotions that are seldom reined in. Great acting, worth seeing. (CityBeat review here.) Through
Nov. 10. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati finishes its run of Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn this
weekend, hot from Broadway in its regional premiere. (CityBeat review here.) A story about
modern women and what satisfies — and dissatisfies — them. Three
generations end up debating choices made: It's both entertaining and
thought-provoking, a showcase of excellent local actors. Through Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
As Halloween draws closer, you might want to check out a show or two inspired by the "season." Dracula at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts (tickets: 513-241-6550) tells the familiar tale of the legendary vampire. (CityBeat review here.) Slasher at Falcon Theatre (Monmouth Theatre in Newport; tickets 513-479-6783)
is a tongue-in-cheek piece that originated a few years back at the
Humana Festival in Louisvile. It's about people making a horror flick
and how it affects their lives. Lots of humor, but some thoughtful
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:34 AM | Permalink
My best recommendation for this weekend is Ensemble Theatre's staging of Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn.
This is an ultra-natural piece of writing with several generations of
women arguing and contesting over the ways women should behave. (CityBeat review here.) It's
focused on two women, once friends, one married to the other's ex
college boyfriend. It's years later and neither woman is very happy with
her present life. How that plays out will keep you engaged from start
to finish. Some exceptional acting, with strong direction by D. Lynn
Meyers. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
The Playhouse's world premiere of Martín Zimmerman's Seven Spots on the Sun
is a powerful drama that engages all your senses as well as your
imagination. The products of a devastating civil war in Central America
are played out in painfully personal ways. Potent script, strong
performances make this a show worth seeing. (CityBeat review here.) This weekend at the
Playhouse also offers a series of previews (hence, more affordable
tickets) of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret, a show that's been
around for a long time — but still has a saucy kick that makes it feel
very in the moment. Playhouse box office: 513-421-3888.
Need to starting getting into a Halloween state of mind? Covedale Center opened a production of Dracula on Thursday (it's onstage through Nov. 10) for you to sink your teeth into. Or vice versa. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
Cincinnati Shakespeare kicks off its production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men
this evening. It's a tale of friendship in the midst of the Great
Depression, two men who are migrant workers, often staying one step
beyond serious trouble caused by oafish Lennie. Cincy Shakes' regular
Jim Hopkins plays the simple-minded giant who's protected by the
pragmatic George, brought to life by veteran Jeremy Dubin. It's a
thoughtful, sad story. Opens Friday evening, continues through Nov. 10. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
of Cincinnati Shakespeare, the company is involved in bringing National
Theatre Live broadcasts from London to Cincinnati. If these screenings
generate any profits, Cincy Shakes will get some financial benefit. So
assemble a group and head to Springdale 18's Cinema de Luxe on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. You'll see a powerful performance of Othello
featuring Adrian Lester (an Olivier Award winner) as the title
character and Rory Kinnear (featured in a couple of recent James Bond
films) as the manipulative Iago. Here's a link to buy tickets, $19 in general, $15 for seniors and students.
a kid to see a show and you're likely to create a lifetime theater
lover. That's what happened to me when my grandfather took me to see the
musical Brigadoon. So you can give this theory a try this weekend as
the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati opens its 89th mainstage season
with Annie JR. at the Taft Theatre. It's a shortened
version of the Broadway hit about a spunky orphan who charms everyone
(and which happens to be back on Broadway this fall in a full-length
production). Public performances today, tomorrow and Sunday. Tickets: 800-745-3000.
Deep scars, painful memories
0 Comments · Monday, October 7, 2013
Wartime tortures its victims long beyond the battlefields
and combat. Especially when a war tears apart the population of a single
nation, the scars run deep, last long and profoundly change lives.
That’s the circumstance of the characters in Martín Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun, receiving its world premiere at the Cincinnati Playhouse.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 11:32 AM | Permalink
Perhaps this weekend
you want to take a last-chance trip down Memory Lane. You have that
option as the Showboat Majestic is wrapping up its production of Showboat Follies,
the final show that Cincinnati Landmark Productions will stage on the
historic vessel. It's a revue of songs and skits that should be fun if
not profound, but if you go (final performance is Sunday),
you'll be able to tell you foriends that you were among the last to
visit this nostalgic Cincinnati venue. (Unless the City of Cincinnati
finds another operator — which they've been seeking with no success.)
This weekend also offers the final performances of Oliver Twist at
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It's a tale of crime and child abuse
from the Victorian era, and not terribly chipper — think A Christmas Carol
without any holiday spirits. But as always with Cincy Shakes, there's
some fine acting — and they've added some musical elements that keep
things interest, too. Through Sunday. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
The most engaging theater onstage right now (and sticking around until Oct. 4) is Fly
at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It's a creative portrait of four aspiring
African Americans striving to be Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.
The challenges they faced — prejudice, rigorous training and
life-threatening aerial combat — not only made them pioneers who
addressed civil rights issues decades before the rest of America, it
made them heroes, too. Making this production all the more interesting
is a modern tap dancer who "underscores" many of the scenes with
movement and rhythm. I suspect you've never seen anything quite like
this. Tickets: 513-241-3888.
If you're a movie fan I suspect you've seen Carrie (based on Stephen King's novel about a bullied girl who unleashed her telekinetic powers) and Ghost
(about a guy who's murdered but comes back with the help of a crazy
psychic to save the lover he's lost). They've both been turned into
unmemorable musicals that are onstage locally for you to see. I've seen
them both, and I'm sorry to say that — despite some fine voices (in Carrie at the Carnegie, presented by Showbiz Players) and a lot of video and special effects (a touring production of Ghost at the Aronoff Center) — I believe you might be better off to pull out your DVD of either film to watch.
haven't seen it, but I'm intrigued by Northern Kentucky University's
production of Moby Dick Rehearsed. Herman Melville's great American
novel is brought to life onstage when a company of Shakespearean actors
stop rehearsing King Lear and consider a new play drawn from the tale of
the Great White Whale. Theater elements become aspects of the Pequod as the crew is lashed along in Captain Ahab's obsessive hunt for the beast that took his leg. Through Oct. 6. Tickets: 859-572-5464.
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Occasionally I like to discuss where
plays and musicals come from. We have two interesting examples locally
this month: a touring production of Ghost the Musical at the Aronoff and the Cincinnati Playhouse’s regional premiere of Fly, a historical drama presented with imaginative staging.
Straighten up and fly right
0 Comments · Monday, September 16, 2013
Fly’s story is one that’s important
to the evolution of America, and it’s done in this production with such
verve and passion that I know audiences will respond.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:35 AM | Permalink
Two more days of the
2013 Cincy Fringe remain. In its 10th year, this year's festival has
provided consistently high-quality offerings. If you're serious about
the full range of theater, you owe it to yourself to catch a couple of
them. I can't go into everything here, but you can check out my column
from the current issue of CityBeat here or go straight to CityBeat's hub for web coverage where you can read coverage of all the shows, thanks to our dedicated corps of reviewers.One further recommendation: Make your way to Know Theatre after 10 p.m. on Saturday
to mix and mingle with the lively crowd and be among the first to learn
which shows have earned "Pick of the Fringe" honors. There's no charge
for admission; buy a drink or two and tip the bartenders generously.
This is a volunteer-driven event, so you might also say thanks to anyone
wearing a volunteer T-shirt.
as the Fringe sails off into the sunset, there's still plenty of
theater onstage locally. For instance, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
opens its revival of its hit from last summer, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
(Find CityBeat's review of last summer's CSC production here.) A three-man cast plays all the characters in a very funny take on the
classic Sherlock Holmes tale. The actors, a trio of Cincy Shakes' best
(Jeremy Dubin, Nicholas Rose and Brent Vimtrup), have been staged by the
always inventive Michael Evan Haney, the Cincinnati Playhouse's
associate artistic director and perhaps our finest local stage director,
who manages to squeeze every possible ounce of entertainment from this
hilarious script. The show had a sold-out run last July, and you can
expect a similar response this month; the run continues through June 30. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
Another option: Duck Hunter Shoots Angel, at Falcon Theater in Newport. It's a funny script by Mitch Albom (the author of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet In Heaven) about two bumbling Alabama duck
hunters who think they’ve shot an angel. The story lands in a New York tabloid and explodes from there. Through June 15. Tickets: 513-479-6783.
For something more serious, I suggest Showbiz Players production of Spring Awakening
at the Carnegie in Covington, the winner of eight Tony Awards
(including best musical). It's a tale of teen angst and emerging
sexuality, a powerful piece with a driving Rock score. Onstage through June 8. Tickets: 859-957-1940.
And there's still time to catch Shipwrecked! on the Playhouse's Shelterhouse stage (through June 16).
It's a fantastic and family-friendly tale about adventure and
storytelling, told imaginatively using three actors and a lot of clever
sound effects and adaptation of everyday things to create exotic
settings and dangerous moments, rescued by heroism or happenstance. (CityBeat review here.) A
good show for the whole family. Tickets: 513-421-3888
Finally, a reminder: The Tony Awards, recognizing Broadway's best shows, will be be broadcast on Sunday evening on CBS, starting at 8 p.m., hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.
An adventurous story of storytelling
0 Comments · Friday, May 24, 2013
The Playhouse is wrapping up its 53rd season with Donald Margulies’s 2007 script, Shipwrecked!.
Concluding Blake Robison’s first season as artistic director, the show
continues his promise to offer family-friendly plays designed to appeal
to a broad cross-section of Playhouse theatergoers
Boundaries between fantasy, reality blur in Deborah Laufer's modern script
1 Comment · Monday, February 18, 2013
Playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer has found a vein of universality in her new play, Leveling Up,
using the world of online gaming in which players vie for higher levels
of power and accomplishment, as a metaphor for growing up.