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Local Theater Awards Need Work

0 Comments · Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Although most people think that theater awards are about recognizing excellence, the real bottom line is marketing. A half-dozen award programs in New York City — the Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the Lortels, the Obies — lead up to the big kahuna, the Tony Awards, focused on Broadway shows.  
by Rick Pender 05.18.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 5-16 - titanic - photo provided by cincinnati music theatre

Stage Door: Last Call for 'Titanic'

If I were you, I’d to my best to catch a performance of Titanic: The Musical before it closes on Saturday at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. The show puts you in the midst of dozens of characters as they board the ship, overflowing with great expectations — of success, of escaping poverty, of new life in America, of achieving dreams. You get to know them, and then you see the tragedy that comes their way after the tragic collision with an iceberg in April 1912. Maury Yeston’s score is all about choral singing, and Cincinnati Music Theatre, one of our most ambitious community theaters, makes it work with an impressive physical production and great voices. Full review: here. Tickets: 513-621-2787. I’m pleased to tell you that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has done a fine job with its production of The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. It’s officially categorized as a comedy because it has humorous and romantic elements. But the central story about a potentially fatal argument between a moneylender and a businessman is anything but amusing. CSC’s artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips takes on the role of the rapacious moneylender who has faced anti-Semitic discrimination for his entire life. Is Shylock a villain or a victim? Shakespeare gives him aspects of each, and CSC’s production, directed by Jeremy Dubin does not tilt in either direction. It’s up to you to decide, and that’s how this show works best. Full review: here. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1. Life Could Be A Dream, Roger Bean’s sequel to The Marvelous Wonderettes and a show ful of teen hits from the ’50s and ’60s, concludes its successful run at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati this weekend. This time it’s boys, and that’s most of the difference. As in the two Wonderette shows, Dream is shot through with adolescent angst, this time around a local radio station contest that could “make them famous.” Audiences seem to have loved this excuse for two dozen tunes from the era, and ETC is keeping its cast busy to the very end, adding an extra finale on Sunday evening at 6 p.m. Box office: 513-421-3555. This is also the final weekend for you to get down with the Blues in the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s production of Thunder Knocking on the Door. The show, a hit for the Playhouse in 1999 has been thoroughly and creatively reimagined. The musical — with emotional tunes mostly by Keb’ Mo’ — tells the story of the power of love, music and Blues guitar players. It’s presented with panache, including technology and design that are all about 2012. Through Sunday. Full review: here. Box office: 513-421-3888. Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
 
 
by Rick Pender 05.11.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Les Miserables

Stage Door: Musicals Rule the Weekend

I was at the Tuesday night opening of a one-week run of the tour of the 25th anniversary production of Les Misérables. You might be saying, “I’ve seen that before — more than once.” But this is a new version — no more turntable or pirouetting barricades. Now we have some startling video that let’s you see the rebellious students marching in the streets of Paris and Jean Valjean carrying Marius through the sewers. The tour has great voices in all the roles; the volume was amped up beyond my hearing threshold, but it’s a powerful show — after all these years. Through Sunday at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: 800-982-2787. Here’s a tip if you want something that’s new(ish): The Light in the Piazza was a Tony Award winner in 2005, and it’s being staged by one of the most reliable community theaters in the Cincinnati area, Footlighters Inc., at its Stained Glass Theatre in Newport. It’s a romantic love story set in Italy in 1953, told with sophisticated music, sometimes operatic performances. In June 2006, just before it closed, it was broadcast on the PBS Live from Lincoln Center series, drawing more than two million viewers. That many can’t make it to Newport (it runs through May 19), but if you’re interested, Footlighters is offering a “buy one, get one” deal for its 2 p.m. matinee this Sunday, May 13. Tickets: 859-652-3849. If you resonate with the Blues, I recommend that you head to the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for Keith Glover’s Thunder Knocking on the Door. It’s a revival of sorts from 1999 — but thoroughly and creatively reimagined for the Eden Park’s last mainstage production of Ed Stern’s final season leading the Tony Award-winning theater. The musical — with emotional tunes mostly by Keb’ Mo’ — tells the story of the power of love, music and Blues guitar players. It’s presented with panache, including technology and design that are all about 2012. Through May 20. Box office: 513-421-3888. The Doo-Wop silliness of The Marvelous Wonderettes, a hit from 2010 at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, is brought to life again with Life Could Be A Dream, Roger Bean’s sequel to the story of some bubbly girls who bond around teen hits from the ’50s and ’60s. This time it’s boys, and that’s most of the difference. As in the two Wonderette shows, Dream is shot through with adolescent angst, this time around a local radio station contest that could “make them famous.” It’s an excuse for two dozen tunes from the era, a familiar formula. But ETC’s talented cast makes it a lot of fun. (Through May 20.) Box office: 513-421-3555. This weekend is your final chance to see Know Theatre’s production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. (Final performance is Saturday.) It’s a youthful mix of political commentary, driving Rock, history, humor and sober observations about America’s seventh president — played as a Rock hero. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Call the box office to see if there are any cancellations: 513-300-5669. Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
 
 

Déjà Vu, All Over Again

0 Comments · Wednesday, May 9, 2012
If you’re paying attention to local theater currently, you might feel you’ve jumped into Mr. Peabody’s wayback machine. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is in Springfield again for Life Could Be A Dream, where teens from the 1950s fret about love and the future by singing tunes that Baby Boomers know by heart.  
by Rick Pender 05.04.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
thunder_6-1

Stage Door: Back For More

If this week’s theater offerings sound familiar, it’s because we’ve seen some of these shows (or their inspirations). The best choice, for my money, is Keith Glover’s Thunder Knocking on the Door at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, a revival of sorts from 1999 — but thoroughly and creatively reimagined for the final mainstage production of Ed Stern’s final season leading the Tony Award-winning theater. It’s a musical about the Blues and it features an emotional Blues score, mostly by Keb’ Mo’, to tell the story of the power of love and music — and blues guitar players. It’s presented with panache, including technology and design that are all about 2012. Through May 20. Box office: 513-421-3888. If you loved the Doo-Wop silliness of The Marvelous Wonderettes, a hit from 2010 at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, then you’re likely to have a good time at Life Could Be A Dream, Roger Bean’s sequel to the story of some bubbly girls who bond around teen hits from the ’50s and ’60s. This time is boys, and that’s most of the difference. As in the two Wonderette shows, Dream is shot through with adolescent angst, in this case around a local radio station contest that could “make them famous.” It’s an excuse for more than two dozen tunes from the same era that are shaped to the story. So it’s a familiar formula, but ETC has a talented cast who make it a lot of fun. (Through May 20.) Box office: 513-421-3555. Another show that totally mastered the art of wedging familiar tunes into an implausible story is Mamma Mia, and you can catch a touring production of that one at the Aronoff Center through Sunday. The cast of this tour has a lot of youthful energy and several mature characters who have fun reminiscing about their disco days. Box office: 800-982-2787. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson will have its final performance on May 12. If you haven’t yet seen this youthful mix of political commentary, driving Rock, history, humor and sober observations about the will of the people, you’d better go this weekend. (The longer you wait the less likely you are to get a ticket — the final weekend is selling fast.) Not many musicals begin with the cast flipping the bird at the audience, but then not many musicals are like this one, spinning a tale of America’s seventh president to in-your-face Indie Rock tunes. This is Bloody Bloody’s first professional regional production. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Box office: 513-300-5669. You have plenty of time to see The Second City 2: Less Pride – More Pork, since the Cincinnati Playhouse plans to keep it on the Shelterhouse Stage until July 1 (at least), but I predict you’ll enjoy it whenever you go. It’s a notch up from the first iteration of the show that set box-office records for the Mount Adams theater a year-and-a-half ago. Lots of hilarious fun-poking at … us. And the clever cast uniquely tailors every performance to the audience that shows up. Box office: 513-421-3888. Know Theatre’s production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit, I was thoroughly entertained by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last week at the Covedale. It has a cast of strong singers who do a fine job with the amusing score, stuffed with musical parodies — Calypso, Blues, County, Bubblegum Pop and more — and they’re having an infectious good time. Keep an eye out for the Pharaoh; he’s really the King! Through May 13. Box office: 513-241-6550. Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
 
 

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati 2.0

0 Comments · Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Things ain’t what they used to be at Ensemble Theatre. A decade ago 1127 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine was near ground zero for some of the city’s worst behavior — drug-dealing, shootings, arrests and police controversy. During the 2001 riots, artistic director D. Lynn Meyers and the cast of a show she was rehearsing had to be barricaded and locked into the theater for their own safety.   

Award Winners

0 Comments · Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Cincinnati no longer has a theater awards program resembling the Tonys (nominees for the year’s best Broadway productions will be out soon), but that won’t stop me from naming my choices for the best shows so far.    
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.
 
 

On the Theatrical Horizon

0 Comments · Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Most CityBeat readers want to read about things to do right here and right now, so I don’t allocate many words to theater season announcements that show up this time of year. Keep your eye on citybeat.com, especially the arts blog, for up-to-the-minute information and recommendations.  
by Rick Pender 02.17.2012
Posted In: Theater at 11:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
curtaincall_ac_speakingintongues_sandyunderwood.widea

Stage Door: Transmigration and Several Critic's Picks

Andrew Bovell’s 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: 513-421-3888.If you’re a fan of the Cincinnati Fringe, you should check out the Transmigration Festival at CCM on the University of Cincinnati campus. I was there last evening and saw three of the six performances, especially enjoying Booth, 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 Christmas Carol, 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 Farnsworth Invention, 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 The West Wing to The Social Network — are a guarantee of a heady, exciting tale based on real events. Tickets ($14 is the maximum price): 859-572-5464. Know Theater’s “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.
 
 

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