For its 33rd iteration, the Humana Festival of New American Plays offered as many works that were based on ensemble and imagery as it did traditional dramatic plays. By the luck of the schedule during the weekend I recently attended at Actors Theatre of Louisville (ATL), I saw three works (Wild Blessings, a selection of writings by Kentucky poet Wendell Barry; Ameriville, a piece of performance art by UNIVERSES, a Hip Hope ensemble; and Under Construction, a script by avant-garde writer Charles Mee performed by the equally experimental SITI Company directed by Anne Bogart) that lacked traditional narrative form.
The 2012-2013 season of touring productions presented by Broadway in Cincinnati marks a quarter-century of bringing high-quality shows to the Aronoff Center, which the series has called home since it opened in 1995. The shows that will keep the Walnut Street facility humming – not to mention nearby restaurants – were announced today. They include the funky Blue Man Group making its first appearance in Cincinnati, plus a selection of shows that have been Broadway hits and award winners. Here’s the rundown:
Blue Man Group (Oct. 16-28, 2012) is a wild and crazy theatrical experience, a performance act that has been combining comedy, music and technology for more than 10 years. With no spoken language, the trio of guys with blue plastic skin presents a show that’s big, loud, funny, silly, visually arresting – and not easy to describe. The show won a special citation in the 1991 Obie Awards, and recognition in 1992 from the Lucille Lortel Awards (for excellence in off-Broadway theatre) and from the Village Voice’s Obie Awards.
Jersey Boys (Nov. 28-Dec. 9, 2012), the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, was a big hit for the series in 2008 when it sold approximately 64,000 tickets during a two-week run. It’s one of the best of the jukebox musicals, and it should be a popular choice again. (Since it’s a repeat Broadway in Cincinnati invites subscribers to choose between this one and Peter Pan to fill out a six-show subscription.)
Memphis (Jan. 22-Feb. 3, 2013) is a fine musical derived from a true story about the challenge race relations in that Tennessee city in the 1960s when a white DJ and a talented black singer find themselves attracted to one another. The show, which won four Tony Awards in 2010, has a rhythm-and-blues score and a lot of great dancing as it tells a powerful story about love, show biz and how the races interacted. One critic called this show “the very essence of what a Broadway musical should be,” and I agree wholeheartedly.
Million Dollar Quartet (Feb. 19-March 3, 2013) was also nominated for the best musical Tony in 2010, losing out to Memphis. It too is based on a real event that happened in Memphis, this one at the studios of Sun Records on Dec. 4, 1956, when four young Rock-and-Roll musicians intersected: Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. It was the only time they were together in a recording session, and the legendary results are the subject matter of this lively show.
Peter Pan (March 12-17, 2013) brings back one-time Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby who has made a career of performing in this show. She turns 60 in December, which brings some kindof weird irony to playing the boy who “won’t grow up,” but Rigby’s athletic skills for flying and fighting mean she’s popular with audiences. She performed the role at the Aronoff in 2000 and 2006. This show is the “choose-one” that subscribers get for their sixth choice.
War Horse (March 26-April 7, 2013) won the 2011 Tony Award for best drama. Set in England in 1914, it’s about an adolescent named Albert and his horse Joey, the latter recruited to go with the troops to World War I in France. It’s an epic tale of the powerful connection between Albert and Joey, and it’s told using remarkably realistic “puppets,” a term hardly seems to suit the manner in which life-sized horses are created and become key characters in this production.
Sister Act (April 30-May 12, 2013) is a musical comedy based on the popular Whoopi Goldberg film from 1992 about a woman whose life takes an unexpected turn when she witnesses a crime and is “hidden” at a convent. This show promises a lot of fun, and it’s been running on Broadway for almost a year. However, I’m afraid that it strikes me as all too typical of the tendency to create shows from mildly popular movies. That film was a vehicle for Whoopi, and without her, I suspect the show is a meager reflection.
Prices for six-season ticket packages range from $149 to $543, depending on seat location. Subscriptions go on sale on Monday at the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati box office in the Mercantile Center downtown at 120 East Fourth Street. You can also order subscriptions online at BroadwayinCincinnati.com or by calling 800-294-1816.
Greater Cincinnati has two awards programs that recognize our excellent theater scene. Perhaps that’s good news, but you might wonder if this kind of competition between competitions is the best way to go.
Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has been celebrating its year-long 50th season with a remarkable number of premieres. Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern will sustain that commitment to new work with a world premiere to kick off the 2010-11 season in September. High will feature movie and stage actress Kathleen Turner in a drama already designated for a move to Broadway early in 2011.
I'm reviewing another show for next week's issue of CityBeat, but on a few nights ago I saw the final rehearsal of New Edgecliff Theatre's staging of Peter Shaffer's Equus. This is one you'll want to catch, and since this is the opening weekend, now's the time to do so — once this is reviewed by others and the buzz gets going, it will be hard to get tickets for the tiny Columbia Performance Center (3900 Eastern Ave., Columbia-Tusculum).
Cincinnati will see the regional premiere of The Book of Mormon a year from now. The winner of nine Tony Awards will be the highlight of Broadway in Cincinnati's 2013-2014 season at downtown's Aronoff Center for the Arts. It's set for a three-week run, Jan. 7-26, 2014. A show described as "the funniest musical of all time" that was created by the guys behind the satirical South Park TV series has enough raucous, off-color humor to melt away any winter chill that settles in following the holidays. It's about two naive and optimistic Mormon missionaries who tryto persuade residents of Uganda to follow their faith — but threatened by a maniacal warlord, the locals are more concerned with war, famine, poverty and AIDS than religion. The satire is laid on thick, and it's the kind of show that's bound to offend some people. Nevertheless, it's been a gigantic Broadway hit since it opened in March 2011; the tour that comes our way began back in August, so Cincinnati is an early stop.The season will have a number of familiar titles, including another three-week run for the Broadway hit Wicked (March 5-23, 2014). The Wizard of Oz musical has been running on Broadway for a decade. There will also be two Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, a new production of his 1978 musical Evita (Feb. 18-March 2, 2014), based on the show's successful 2012 Broadway revival; as well as another chance to see Lloyd Webber's phenomenal hit, The Phantom of the Opera (April 30-May, 11, 2014).
The Broadway hit Rock of Ages took Arena Rock hits from the late ’80s by groups like Journey, Whitesnake, Styx and Bon Jovi and cobbled them together for an amped-up evening of Rock in the theater, particularly appealing to people who were, um, all about partying back in the day. Now it’s on the road, touring from city to city and inviting folks to relive their ill-spent youth — and have a raucous good time. It’s at the Aronoff Center starting tonight, running through Nov. 7.
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:
Among the eight winners announced for the 2012 Governor’s Awards for the Arts in Ohio are several Cincinnatians. Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern, who retires at the end of the current theater season, and Executive Director Buzz Ward have been named the recipient of the year’s recognition in the field of Arts Administration. Louise D. Nippert will be honored in the category of Arts Patron.
As the 2012-2013
theater season winds down, there are still several good productions
worth seeing: You can still be entertained by the froth of The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns at Ensemble Theatre (which runs through June 1), intrigued by the dark comedy Measure for Measure at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (through May 26; CityBeat review here) or titillated by the noir tale of lust and murder, Double Indemnity, at the Cincinnati Playhouse (wrapping up on Saturday; CityBeat review here).
Nothing new onstage
this week, but lots of good work continues as we head toward the summer
when theater gets scarce. Now's the time to stock up.
This is the final weekend for Cock at Know Theatre. (Some publications call it The Cockfight Play, but Cock is Mike Bartlett's actual title for his play.) It's the story of a man who thought he was gay but now finds himself powerfully drawn to a woman. (CityBeat review here.) His former lover and his new passion both push him to make a choice, and he's torn. It's a great piece of theater, fueled by strong acting and interesting staging. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company opens its
production of the infrequently staged Measure for Measure tonight. Director Brian Isaac Phillips says, “We have discovered a lot of
satire and wit as we explore the biting social criticism in
this play. The behavior of these characters … is like a dark comic
mirror, held up to nature. Shakespeare has written a play that begs us
to examine modern day decadence and hypocrisy.” Phillips has set the
production in the corrupt and hypocritical Prohibition Era, to "give
modern audiences a context for the
actions and the characters' deeply held opinions." It's onstage through
May 26. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x.1.
You probably remember Whoopi Goldberg's popular film Sister Act from 1992, an unlikely story about an aspiring singer who witnesses a murder and needs to be hidden until the trial — in a convent. Of course, the contrast between Goldberg and the staid nuns, especially the Mother Superior (played by Maggie Smith). It became a musical in 2009 in London, in 2011 on Broadway and now a touring production. Sister Act: The Musical opened Tuesday at the Aronoff Center.
Of course, Goldberg isn't in it, 20 years later. But she is the producer, and her attitude prevails. Her statement about the show pretty well sums it up: "Sister Act is not rocket science — it's hell-bent on being fun and silly, with a little heart thrown in." That's pretty much what I expected.
What surprised me was the talent of the touring cast, performers who are fully committed to deliver an evening of entertainment. Ta'rea Campbell has star power in the Delores/Sister Mary Clarence role, and she's surely a better singer than Whoopi Goldberg ever was. She conveys the shift from attitude to gratidude with sincerity. Hollis Resnik, a veteran musical theater performer from Chicago, captures the starchy disdain needed for the Mother Superior.
The entire ensemble is solid, especially Lael Van Keuren as the innocent postulant who breaks out of her shell, Florrie Bagel as an enthusiastic, starstruck nun and Diane J. Findlay as an elderly nun who finds her mojo. E. Clayton Cornelious is the socially inept cop looking out for Delores, in part because he had a crush on her in high school; he has dreams of being a smooth operator ("I Could Be That Guy," which features some astonishing costume changes as he fantasizes). And there are cartoonish villains: Delores's violent one-time boyfriend Curtis played by Kingsley Leggs. His three thugs, played hilariously by Ernie Pruneda, Charles Barksdale and Jason Simon bring the house down when they explain how they can have their way with the ladies, even if they're nuns ("Lady in the Long Black Dress").
Of course, Sister Act is full of stereotypes and predictable humor, but its all done with energy and polish, which makes it worth seeing. Production values are excellent, from a lot of quick costume changes (you can't imagine how many acres of glittering material went into this show) to a psychedelic Philadelphia cathedral interior that gets wilder and brighter as the story builds, culminating in a performance for the Pope.
There's nothing profound about Sister Act, which is part of the fun.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati today announced four of its six shows for the 2013-2014 season, which opens on Sept. 4. Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers says, "We are planning a truly original, fresh and exhilarating season of dynamic regional premieres, and I am absolutely thrilled to showcase some of the hottest titles and newest voices this coming year."
You still have several weeks to see Cock (aka "The Cockfight Play" for journalism wimps) at Know Theatre. (It's onstage through May 11.) It's an oh-so-contemporary piece of theater about a gay man — or rather a man — who thought himself to be gay until he breaks up with his boyfriend and takes up with a woman. (CityBeat review here.) The play involves the tense dance of indecision he becomes part of as his lovers fight over him. It's about 90-minutes of fiercely acted theatrics, staged in a setting that looks like the arena where cockfighting happens. Definitely for mature audiences who appreciate shows that don't pull punches. Tickets: 513-3
There's a bounty of
theater choices to keep you entertained this weekend, with productions
on venues all over town — including on several university campuses. Here
are a few you might want to check out.
Sure signs of springtime in Cincinnati: The Reds are playing (and
winning), trees in Over-the-Rhine are covered with white blossoms — and
Know Theatre has announced the lineup for the upcoming Cincinnati Fringe
Festival. 2013 is a significant year for the Fringe: It's marking the 10th anniversary of the annual celebration of weird creativity. Last
evening a big crowd gathered at Know Theatre's Jackson Street facility
to hear what's in store for the May 28-June 8 festival.
Know's producing artistic director, shared the news that, building on a
decade of success, the Fringe received a
record number of applicants for 2013, with 70 percent of the
applications coming from brand-new producers. That's one of the best
parts of the Fringe, the fact that a new jolt of energy arrives annually
from performers that haven't been seen locally. Sixty-three percent of the 2013
applications were from out of town, including several from
international producers. There will be 35 productions in all, by 17
local groups and 18 from out of town. There will be 19 plays, seven solo
shows, two dance pieces, two musicals, and five multimedia/variety
Vosmeier said that it was no easy task for the Fringe selection committee to assemble this lineup. The group was made up of theater professionals from Greater Cincinnati: Heather Britt, Michael Haney, Dave Levy, Miranda McGee, D. Lynn Meyers and Torie Wiggins. “The quality of applications continues to get stronger and larger each year," he said. "I'm so happy to have these amazing leaders of the local theatre community as a part of our jury, and we're grateful for their time in deciding the 2013 lineup.”
The official CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party takes place Tuesday, May 28, at Know Theatre. This year's event will also be a 10th birthday celebration, with many of the festival's founders in attendance. The evening, which kicks off at 6 p.m., will feature Indie rock group Bethesda and food from a half-dozen local eateries. The evening (suggested donation: $5) is an opportunity to meet Fringe artists, staff, volunteers and other audience members.
full Fringe schedule will be published in CityBeat's May 15 edition,
but you can get some information at the refreshed website: www.cincyfringe.com.
I'm looking forward to return visits by Wonderheads (from Portland,
Ore., who did some amazing work with masks in last year's Grim and Fischer; their new piece is titled LOON), Four Humors Theatre (from Minneapolis, whose always creative troupe will be staging Lolita: A Three Man Show) and Tanya O'Debra (from New York City; whose Radio Star was a much admired work in 2012; this time she's in a two-person piece, Shut UP, Emily Dickinson).
Performance Gallery, based here in Cincinnati and a regular annual
presence every year is staging Mater Facit, "an absurd look at
motherhood, nationalism, war, sex and sacrifice." Tangled Leaves
Theatrical Collective, another Cincinnati-based group popular with local
audiences, will produce Vortex of the Great Unknown.
Of course, the real fun of Fringe is being surprised by new material and performers, and this year's lineup offers plenty of that: Poe and Mathews: A Misadventure in the Middle of Nowhere (Los Angeles); Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity (Bloomington, Ind.); The Bubble and Other Displays of Moral Turpitude (from Cincinnati-based North American New Opera Workshop); The Elephant in My Closet (New York City); and a production of Cincinnati playwright Catie O'Keefe's The Space Between my Head and my Body (by Shark Eat Muffin Theatre Company). I could go on and on — Know's announcement news release is 20 pages! Based on a decade of Fringing, I like to say that the festival is "theater roulette": You never know what's going to happen when you show up for a performance, and serendipity is the only predictable element. That's what makes it fun. I don't want to wish away springtime, but is it May 28 yet?
This weekend is the opener for Covedale Center's production of Legally Blonde, the show that kicked up controversy in a Loveland High School staging last fall that led to the firing of a dedicated director. I still shake my head over what could offend anyone about this PG rated piece of musical theater, but you can check it out and decide for yourself at the Covedale. It's about a young woman who won't take "no" for an answer and becomes her own woman in the process — outshining everyone at Harvard Law School. It's kind of crazy, but a lot of fun. No one will get fired over this one, I suspect. Box office: 513-241-6550
The Otto M. Budig Theatre at the Carnegie in Covington is in the midst of a run of Jason Robert Brown's Parade. My schedule and the theater's haven't matched up yet, but I'm eager to see it — I'm headed there for the Sunday matinee this weekend. Set in the sweltering intolerance of 1913 Atlanta, Parade is the story of Leo Frank, a northerner and Jewish factory manager, wrongfully accused of murdering a 13-year-old girl in his employment. Despite media frenzy and public outrage, his courageous wife struggles in vain to clear his name. The show won 1999 Tony Awards for best book and best score. This is an off-campus production by the musical theater program at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, and it's been given high marks by the judging panel from the League of Cincinnati Theatres: for the ensemble, for musical direction by Steve Goers, for featured actor Noah Ricketts and for lighting design by Alan Hanson and Wes Richter. It's onstage through April 21. Box office: 859-957-1940
Untethered Theater is midway through it's run of Jeff Daniels' Apartment 3A, presented at the Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow, a few blocks east of the Esquire. It's about a once idealistic young woman who has been disillusioned in just about every aspect of her life. The show is an exploration of faith and hope in today's world, described as "an uncynical play about cynics in cynical times." Through April 27. Tickets: 513-939-0599
I'm off to the Humana
Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville this
weekend, where I'll be checking out plays that could well be on their
way to theaters across America in future seasons. For those of you
staying here in Greater Cincinnati, there's lots of good stuff to get
out and see onstage: