by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:55 AM | Permalink
There’s lots happening on Cincinnati stages this weekend — including excellent productions of Circle Mirror Transformation at the Cincinnati Playhouse and Outside Mullingar at Ensemble Theatre. The Cincinnati Fringe Festival is right around the corner. But I want to use this week’s Stage Door to highlight a glimpse of the future. Tonight the CAPPIE AWARDS will celebrate productions and performers from area high schools with a festive event at the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall.Among the students being recognized are critics. That’s right: As part of the Cappies, teens from high schools visit other schools to critique performances. I have the privilege of handing out awards to the outstanding team of students from one particular high school. Starting last year, another recognition was added, sponsored by CityBeat, identifying the outstanding single critique written over the course of the year.I received a half-dozen essays deemed by Cappies organizers to be the best pieces written during the 2014-2015 school year. (I did not know the names of the critics or their high schools when I was picking the winner.) At tonight’s ceremony, I’ll announce one I believe to be the best. You can read all of the reviews I considered in today’s blog, below. In addition to taking home a dandy trophy, the winner is invited to review a FringeNext show, one of three high school productions presented at the Cincy Fringe next week. I urge you to read what these insightful young people have written about productions at other schools. It’s possible that someday one of these promising writers will be writing about shows and helping theater fans decide what to see onstage in Greater Cincinnati. Rick
Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews
and feature stories here. West Side
at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy
REVIEWED BY COLE HANKINS, Loveland High School
fearsome gang war, two lovers are forever torn apart by the pull of a pistol’s
trigger. And as a girl mourns her horrible loss, she extends two hands, one to
each side. In the left hand, a Jet; in the right, a Shark, two groups sworn
enemies, now holding hands united under common loss. It is with this
heart-wrenching image of solidarity that Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy’s
production of West Side Story leaves
its audience, and with this image that its excellence finally hits home.
American theatrical classic, West Side
Story takes place in New York City, where two local teenage gangs — the
Caucasian “Jets” and Puerto Rican “Sharks” — are amidst a territorial dispute.
Jets leader Riff plans to challenge the Sharks and leader Bernardo to a rumble
in order to settle the issue. However, the plot thickens when fellow Jet Tony
meets Bernardo’s sister Maria, and the two quickly fall in love. The result is
ultimately a situation spun far out of control, a vengeful gunshot separating
the lovers forever, and grave consequences to a merciless feud.
CHCA’s production started with a bang in “Prologue,” where the Jets’ and
Sharks’ choreographic and combat execution splendidly set the tone for the
action to come. The Jets were particularly sharp in songs such as “Jet Song”
and the lighthearted character number “Gee, Officer Krupke.” Other show
highlights included the upbeat, toe-tapping song “America,” and “Tonight,”
where both Jets and Sharks alike came together for a powerful prelude to the
action-packed “The Rumble.”
headliner Tony, actor Will Ellis’s performance was defined by pristine tenor
vocals and a captivating vibrato, mastering his character’s higher range. In
solo songs like “Maria,” Ellis never shied away from the spotlight, boldly
owning critical character moments. Opposite of Ellis, Allie Kuroff’s operatic
soprano was equally impressive as the lovely Maria, clearly acting her finest
in the show’s riveting finale. Both Ellis and Kuroff played their roles with a
unique tenderness, providing an interesting presentation of two classic
actress Merrie Drees brought a thrilling flair to the flashy, spunky Anita.
Drees’s powerfully sassy vocals proved phenomenal, and her ability to balance
great comedic timing in earlier scenes with compelling emotion later on was
marvelous, a dynamic lacking in other characters. As the charismatic Riff, Gabe
Hoyer also crafted an extraordinary performance. Hoyer featured a mesmerizing
gravity to his presence that added an unmistakable charm to Riff, making his
Act I death one of the musical’s most tragic moments.
with a very challenging musical score, the CHCA Orchestra played fabulously.
Despite drowning out certain vocalists at times, the pit kept accompaniment
clean, crisp, and well polished throughout. Equally crisp and well polished was
manager Kaitlyn Nickol’s stage crew, making scene changes promptly and
effortlessly and contributing to the show’s timely pacing.
justice to one of the most beloved musicals of all time is undoubtedly a
daunting task. Yet as the lights faded on that aforementioned scene of unity,
the cast of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy’s recent production of West Side Story had accomplished exactly
this. In a wildly successful effort, these talented performers honored not only
the endearing charm of this theatrical legend, but also its strikingly poignant
Midsummer Night’s Dream at Larry A. Ryle High School
REVIEWED BY ELEANOR CONNIFF, Highlands High
written nearly 400 years ago, the works of William Shakespeare are still
revered today as some of the most influential in all of Western literature. The
Bard's plays are usually an essential component of any English course. The
classic tales are still performed often by actors and theatre companies alike.
It is difficult to imagine something as old as the publication of Shakespeare's
First Folio in 1623 continuing to remain relevant and entertaining to
audiences. In A Midsummer Night's Dream,
performed by Larry A. Ryle High School, students brought life to the timeless
classic and gave a performance that stayed true to the tradition of Shakespeare
with unique and original twists.
of A Midsummer Night's Dream centers
around a love triangle, or rather, rectangle, between Hermia and Lysander, two
star-crossed lovers; Demetrius, who loves Hermia, although unrequited; and
Helena, who loves Demetrius. When Puck, a mischievous fairy from the woods,
accidentally casts a spell on the two young men, he reverses their affections,
causing both to fall in love with Helena. Chaos ensues as Puck attempts to
reverse the mistaken spell and keep peace within both the fairy and the lovers'
A. Ryle's production of this classic story, the students met the challenge of
Shakespeare with eagerness and understanding of the style, far beyond the years
of most high school students. The production also paired the original
Shakespearean text with 1950s style costumes, props, and characters in order to
portray a commentary on the time period's stratified nature and to modernize
the theme of unrequited love.
pressures of a four-way love triangle, Willow Davis's portrayal of Helena stood
out among the leading roles of the show as her characterization and poise set
her apart. Helena’s nagging but endearing nature allowed the audience to laugh
at her melodramatic soliloquies while also sympathizing with her broken heart.
Samuel Greenhill stood out in his portrayal of Demetrius as well, creating a
character that was both likable and antagonistic and keeping him true to the
attitudes of the time period.
it is impossible to forget Macy Bates’s performance as the mischievous Puck.
The youthful energy that she brought to the role was extremely refreshing and
played well into her comedic timing, keeping the audience laughing again and
technical aspect, the show was extremely fine-tuned. Albert Harris's lighting
was absolutely stunning, with a purposeful contrast in the lighting of the
fairy world versus that of the real world. This choice, while subtle, was
extremely impactful, as the set's minimalist style made the setting of the
story extremely ambiguous and versatile, with the shift in lighting as the main
indicator of shifting worlds.
mischief are the same now as they were in the 1950s, and the same in the 1950s
as they were in Shakespeare's time. Larry A. Ryle High School's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream portrayed
these themes in a fresh and unique way, while also paying homage to the
tradition of William Shakespeare.
Beauty and the Beast at McAuley High School
REVIEWED BY SAMANTHA TIMMERS, Scott High School
every day you see a humanoid clock charging at foes with a silver fork. Nor is
it every day that an audience finds themselves yet again floored by a
performance they've seen on the screen a hundred times before. Yet in this
heartwarming rendition of Beauty and the
Beast, McAuley High School charmed both adult and child once again through
their humor and talent.
rendition, written by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Linda
Wolverton, is actually an adaptation of an adaptation. The Oscar-winning movie
version with which the world is familiar came out in 1991, the inspiration
stemming from the 1756 fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. In this
third version, a beautiful and bookish Belle becomes the only hope for a
long-forgotten castle staff and Prince, who are slowly becoming inanimate
objects as a result of a spell caused by the Prince’s vanity. But can Belle
learn to love a Beast who can barely learn to love anyone else?
McAuley created a magnificent performance that was filled with magic and
surprises. The cast was bouncing with energy from start to finish, and their
vocal quality was solid amongst all actors. The technical crew skillfully
created a lively atmosphere that resonated with audience members, phenomenally
recreating classic scenes. With glittering costumes and whimsical choreography,
Beauty and the Beast did not disappoint.
Mouch was extraordinary in her performance as Belle. Her vocal quality was
pristine and clear, effortlessly reaching every note as well as maintaining her
character’s spunky yet thoughtful personality. Gregory Miller, a
well-established actor in Cincinnati high school theater, outdid expectations
in his performance as the Beast. Though he might have had hair and tusks
masking his face, his powerful yet perfectly controlled voice said more than
facial expressions ever could.
favorites included the actors playing Lumière and Cogsworth. AJ Keith’s
(Cogsworth) dry humor was expertly delivered and well received, his deadpans
flawless and his mannerisms appropriate for the endearing yet bossy character.
Benjamin Burton seemed to be made for the role of Lumière: his French accent
was spot-on (and maintained throughout the length of the show), and his eye for
comedy was terrific—all it took was a few suggestive hip movements to send the
audience into uncontrollable laughter.
provided dazzling effects for the show. The lighting was of almost professional
quality, with a highlight being the mystical, Northern Lights-sequel brilliance
that occurred during the Beast’s transformation. While the costumes seemed to
closely follow the movie adaptation, they were of high quality and were well
constructed and designed. The choreography flowed seamlessly, from the Mob’s
parade around the auditorium to the Wolves’ deathly yet entrancing dance.
Overall, McAuley’s crew was a force to be reckoned with, achieving seemingly
magical transitions and mirages.
tale as old as time, McAuley High School enchanted youth and elderly alike with
its whimsy personality and spellbinding characters, reminding everyone not to
be deceived by appearances; there “may be something there that wasn't there
at the School for Creative and Performing Arts
REVIEWED BY SARAH MORGAN, Mariemont High School
gunshot can end a life, create irreversible emotional damage, and shatter even
the closest of relationships in an instant. The School for Creative and
Performing Arts’ dark, poignant, and haunting performance of The Mourners’ Bench explored the
crippling emotional aftermath of a deplorable tragedy.
act opened up to an intense argument between siblings Bobby (Bradley Mingo) and
Melissa (Nina Walker). Twenty years after they witnessed their father shoot
their mother, Evelyn, in a murder-suicide, Bobby and Melissa have still not
healed. While Melissa has attempted to move on with her life, marrying a nice
man and bearing two children, Bobby is trapped in a state of perpetual
dependency, turning to alcohol and eventually buying the childhood house in
which the tragedy occurred. Mingo and Walker perfectly captured the essence of
a tumultuous sibling relationship, from emotionally depleting shouting matches
to interrupting one another mid-sentence. The two were able to adroitly deal
with dark themes, including murder, rape, and suicide, by presenting an air of
deep gravity and maturity to their lines.
set immediately after Evelyn’s funeral, featured her sisters Caroline (Mallory
Kraus) and Wilma (Danielle Brockmann) bickering about the future of their niece
and nephew. Kraus and Brockmann both give performances rife with emotion,
utilizing familiar body language to heighten the intimacy of their
conversation. The timing of their dialogue was natural and seemed completely
organic, inviting the viewer into their quarrel. Brockmann approached her role
as Wilma with a gentle softness, providing a foil for Kraus’s seemingly
callous, unemotional Caroline. The scene ended touchingly, with Kraus playing
the piano while Brockmann watched, a testament to the boundless power of
centered around elderly, married couple Joe (Cameron Baker) and Sarah (Maggie
Hoffecker). They moved into Bobby and Melissa’s childhood home immediately
after the tragedy and become inextricably tangled in the history of the house
they have purchased. The tenderness between Hoffecker and Baker truly reflected
that of a couple on the brink of death; while just sitting next to each other
on a couch, they seem comfortable and at ease, with no trace of awkwardness. By
the end of the scene, sniffling could be heard throughout the theater as the
pair gazed out of a window, contemplating life’s transience.
theater was a room with seating on all four sides, providing an intimate view
of the stage and connecting the audience to the characters. The set was sparse:
a living room furnished with an unadorned couch and a dilapidated piano. The
simpleness of the set allowed the raw emotion of the actors to shine through,
creating a memorable performance.
all, SCPA’s production of The Mourners’
Bench was an evocative and haunting testament to the power of loss,
recovery, and redemption.
at Taylor High School
REVIEWED BY MADISON LUKEN, St. Ursula Academy
A trip to
the barber never seemed so dangerous than in Taylor High School’s production of
Sweeney Todd, where deceit leads to a
menagerie of questionable pies, ineffective Italian barbers and a tempest of
revenge, violence and tragedy.
ordinary barber, husband and young father, Benjamin Barker has his world
turned upside down when he is thrown in jail on a trumped-up charge that costs
him his wife and daughter. Escaping prison, Barker renames himself Sweeney Todd
and moves back into his shop on Fleet Street when he discovers the suicide of
his wife Lucy. Out for blood, he teams up with the pie baker below his flat,
Mrs. Lovett, to take revenge on the ones responsible — Judge Turpin and Beadle
Bamford. Leaving a trail of deception, misery and gore in his wake, Sweeney
Todd becomes the demon barber of Fleet Street in this haunting musical
smoke that billowed from Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop to the synchronization of the
company in “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir,” the unwavering commitment of both the
cast and crew of this show did not go unnoticed in both details and central
events. Every aspect of the show came together to create a product of suspense,
drama, and overall beauty as an elaborate set, apt lighting and emotional
vocals blended with the energy of everyone on and off stage.
the incredible amount of music and its difficulty, the leads of the show,
Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, performed by Antonio Ortiz and Annie Gerth
respectively, conquered the tumultuous trials of Steven Sondheim almost
flawlessly. In addition to this vocal aptitude, Gerth was able to portray the
comedic elements of Lovett through her accent and equally strong acting
propensity. Reciprocated by Ortiz, the two radiated a brilliant, psychotic
chemistry that was always present, especially in songs such as “A Little
to the leading couple, the ensemble floated eerily onto the stage relentlessly,
booming out “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and “City on Fire” without wavering.
Additionally appearing repeatedly, the Beggar Woman, played by Eliana Batsakis,
brought further skill to light both vocally and in her physical acting as she
drifted across the stage, crawling in the shadows of London, cackling manically
and uttering desperate warnings until she met her demise.
scenes, this show demanded both sets and costumes reflective of the dark, dirty
setting of 19th-century London. In both areas, demands were met, as buildings
faded into darkness under a smoky pall and windows appeared cracked in places
like Fogg’s Asylum while their inhabitants skulked about in ripped clothes with
faces scorched with the grime of the streets. The crew was also able to create
credible deaths with their use of stage blood.
Taylor’s production was consistent and energetic in every scene of the show,
creating a thrilling and gripping story through its performers and
behind-the-scenes crew. It was ultimately well deserving of the standing
ovation it received.
a Mattress at Ursuline Academy
REVIEWED BY CARISSA SAFFIRO, Cincinnati
childhood one is taught that princesses are the immaculately beautiful
creatures that epitomize all that is grace and beauty. Who could imagine that
the next princess of a medieval land would be an uncouth and unruly woman from
the swamps? Ursuline Academy’s recent production of Once Upon a Mattress explores what happens when an ill-mannered yet
charming woman steps — or rather swims — into court looking for a prince.
the 1950s, Once Upon a Mattress is a
musical comedy adapted from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale “The Princess
and the Pea.” The musical was written by Jay Thompson, Marshall Barer, and Dean
Fuller with lyrics and music by Marshall Barer and Mary Rodgers, respectively.
The show features Princess Winnifred of the swamplands who comes to marry
Dauntless the Drab, despite all the women before her who have been turned down
by his tyrannical mother. Following the classic tale, the queen puts a pea
under twenty mattresses to determine whether Winnifred is a true princess.
intricate music and challenging characters, the leads of Once Upon a Mattress certainly had their work cut out for them. The
ludicrously uncouth yet lovable Princess Winnifred was played by Kennedy Carstens.
From the moment she stepped on the stage the audience was in the palm of her
hand and her vocal performance was unequalled by any cast member in the show.
CJ Allen had the challenge of playing the role of Dauntless the Drab and chose
to play this arguably flat character with a charming and comedic twist. The
audience’s narrator and another lead actor in the show was the Minstrel, played
by Arjun Sheth. Sheth not only brought the audience through the show with a
confidence and charisma, but also had the vocal range required for the role.
Sextimus the Silent, played by Michael Viox, was another leading force in the
show, although because of an old curse he was unable to speak for most of the
musical. However, his inability to communicate with words in no way inhibited
his connection with the audience or his stage presence. His counterpart and
friend, the Jester, played by Claire Westover, played alongside Viox with
excellent chemistry but also showed a deeper side of her character as well as
impressive tapping ability in her song “Very Soft Shoes.” Carmen Carigan must
also be commended for her performance as the Wizard. Although in a smaller
part, Carigan has the ability to leave the audience clapping and laughing
hysterically every time she stepped off stage.
unique thing about Ursuline, however, is the wealth of talent in their dancers.
The dancing chorus was always together whether they were doing ballet or tap.
With dancers such as Keely Wissel on point and other incredible soloists such
as Caroline Nymberg, the dancers stood out as one of the highlights of the
technical aspects of the show seemed to move effortlessly. There were few to no
microphone errors, although the cast was working with fifteen wireless mikes,
and the lighting was flawless. Arguably the most unique and ingenious part of
the show was the costuming. Almost completely student-made, the costumes were
imaginative and well put together. In the chorus, each lady’s costume had a
corresponding knight’s costume, just one example of the color and brightness of
costumes, actors, and dancers certainly mirrored the fun, bright, and slightly
unconventional style of this production and brought the audience for an
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:19 AM | Permalink
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's 30th season will present three world premieres, the revival of a great musical and Cinderella
While other Cincinnati theaters hustle to get their seasons announced in order to ramp up subscription sales, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati has built enough faith with its audiences that they'll start signing up sight unseen. Artistic Director Lynn Meyers tells regulars that they'll be pleased, and they take her at her word; she adds that if they aren't happy with the shows she picks, they can have their money back. No one asks for it. Of course, ETC presents shows that haven't appeared elsewhere in our region yet, typically premieres that have only recently been onstage in New York City. And they're given productions with great acting and beautiful design so well assembled that many shows have extended runs. (That's happening with the show concluding the current season, John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar, which opens on Wednesday with a stellar cast that includes local stage veteran Dale Hodges and Cincy Shakes Artistic Director Brian Phillips. ETC has announced it will run a week longer than initially indicated, now closing on May 30.)For its 30th season, ETC has assembled three regional premieres and a revival of a musical it staged to great acclaim in 1999, with a TBA slot (March 22-April 10, 2016) that's likely to bring another show that's been a recent Broadway or off-Broadway hit. Here's the lineup announced over the weekend:Luna Gale (Sept. 8-27, 2015) by Rebecca Gilman: The show recently received the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, and it was considered by many to be a strong contender for the Pulitzer Prize in drama. It portrays the moral dilemma facing a social worker with a crushing caseload and personal baggage. She must decide whether to leave a child with neglectful drug addict parents or place her with a grandmother who is a religious zealot. It's a complex and disturbing work about faith and forgiveness that doesn't offer easy answers for the lifelong after-effects of abuse. Its first production was in January 2014 at the Chicago's Goodman Theatre. It's slated for productions at Cleveland Playhouse and Actors Theatre of Louisville in the coming season, but ETC's happens first. Buyer and Cellar (Oct. 13-Nov. 1, 2015) by Jonathan Tollins: The one-many comedy was a big New York hit in 2013, telling the story of an out-of-work actor who takes on the odd job of playing shopkeeper for Barbra Streisand in the basement of her lavish Malibu estate. It's a fanciful imagining of what one does with decades of memories and acres of memorabilia. Performing the piece will be Nick Cearley, a Cincinnati native who has appeared at ETC in next to normal and The Great American Trailer Park Musical.Cinderella (Dec. 2-Jan. 3, 2016) by Joe McDonough, David Kisor and Fitz Patton: ETC's holiday show is a remount of its contemporary take on the classic fairy tale that demonstrates that being smart can be truly beautiful. Grounded (Jan. 26-Feb. 14, 2016) by George Brant: It's another solo show, described by one critic as "ardently humane," about a woman who's an ace pilot reassigned to operate a remote-controlled drone from a windowless trailer near Las Vegas. It's a hit at New York City's Public Theater right now featuring Anne Hathaway in a production directed by Julie Taymor. Hunting terrorists by day and returning to her family at night, the boundaries begin to blur between the desert where she lives and the one she patrols half a world away in Iraq.Violet (May 3-22, 2016). Jeanine Tesori's musical won the Drama Critics Circle Award and the Lucille Award for best musical when it premiered off-Broadway in 1997. It was a local award winner, too, but not seen by many who have come to love ETC's offerings. The score features American Roots tunes as well as Folk and Gospel styles. Violet's story is set in the 1960s; she is a young woman disfigured in a childhood accident who dreams of a miraculous transformation through the power of faith provided by a televangelist. It was one of ETC's best early productions, and it's a great choice to cap off a celebration of three decades of fine theater.Subscriptions are currently available. Call 513-421-3555 for information.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:45 AM | Permalink
Last weekend's snowstorm canceled performances at several local theaters (including the Cincinnati Playhouse), so you might have had several days without theater. Is it time to make up? I finally caught up with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's adaptation of Little Women last night, and I'm glad of it. While the weather is still cold and sidewalks still treacherously icy, the warmth generated by Jo March and her saucy sisters is a welcome tonic. Of course Louisa May Alcott's story of a temporarily fatherless family during the American Civil War is sentimental and, at times, rather maudlin, but the actresses at Cincy Shakes bring such vivacity to their roles that there's plenty to enjoy. Maggie Lou Rader is especially vivacious as Jo, the fiercely independent aspiring writer who insists on finding her own way in a world controlled by men; Kelly Mengelkoch is emotional, conscientious elder sister Meg; Caitlin McWethy is shy and loving Beth; and Courtney Lucien is Amy, the impetuous baby who matures in the second act. Annie Fitzpatrick is Marmee, their steadfast mother, and Justin McCombs is the spirited boy next door who captures the hearts of several of the sisters. The production is simply but effectively staged, enhanced by some subtle video projections and lovely choral singing of period hymns by the ensemble. It's a gentle story that beautifully conveys the virtues of family, sisterhood and feminine intellect in a period when such matters were not always top of mind. It's onstage through March 21. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Last Sunday, while many of you might have been watching the Academy Awards, I was one of 15 or so people in the audience watching Clifton Players' staging of August: Osage County. That's not quite as pitiful as it might sound, since the tiny Clifton Performance Theatre has only about 40 seats for this production. You're right in the midst of the bitter wars being conducted by the combative Weston family, brought together by the disappearance of their father and their mother's relapse into drug dependence and impossibly difficult behavior. But each of Beverly and Vi's three daughters have problems, issues and complicated family situations of their own, so Tracy Letts' three-act, three-plus hour show offers plenty of juicy roles for some of Cincinnati's best actors. The show has typically been played on a big set, but the closeness of CPT makes August: Osage County a powerful evening of dysfunction that's right in your face. Need some heat despite the cold snap? This is your show. It's a Critic's Pick (CityBeat review here). Onstage through March 13. Tickets: 513-861-7469.Performances tonight and Saturday evening will wrap up the run of In the Heat of the Night at Falcon Players in Newport (tickets: 513-479-6783), and Northern Kentucky University's Les Misérables continues through a Sunday matinee. The latter has been sold our for most performances, but if you show up an hour before curtain time, you can get your name on a wait-list for a seat.
For a glimpse of the future, check out my blog postings here and here from earlier this week with 2015-2016 season announcements for the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati Landmark Productions (at the Covedale Center and the new Incline Theatre) and Cincinnati Shakespeare.Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.