All in the Family

CEA Hall of Famers have transformed landmarks into successful entertainment venues

When things really got rolling for Tim and Jennifer Perrino and Denny Reed, they had no trouble seeing that their efforts were having an impact on the local theater landscape. But they didn’t quite realize that the bargain included being responsible for some of Cincinnati’s most beloved landmarks.

When they finally figured it out, it only made sense to name their endeavor Cincinnati Landmark Productions.

For creating and sustaining Cincinnati Young People’s Theatre Festival (CYPT) for nearly 30 years, for keeping the Showboat Majestic afloat — literally and artistically — and for turning a deteriorating West Side movie theater into a popular performing arts venue, the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, the trio are being honored by the League of Cincinnati Theatres with the 2009 “Continuing Achievement Award.” On Sunday evening at Below Zero Lounge in Over-the-Rhine, they’ll be inducted into the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards Hall of Fame.

The Perrinos and Reed have partnered in various theatrical endeavors for more than two decades. When they reopened the Covedale facility in 2002, they settled on an apt name: Cincinnati Landmark Productions (CLP). It’s the umbrella under which year-round theatrical activity hums along, but it’s also a bit like a couple of rambling homes in which a big happy family resides and works to keep everything in repair.

Tim Perrino got things started not long after graduating from Thomas More College with a theater degree. He remembers being in a TMC production as a student, directed by D. Lynn Meyers, now artistic director of Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati; then a senior at TMC, she was the first student to direct a full-length play, Robert Anderson’s Tea and Sympathy. Tim was in her cast.

He got started 28 years ago by recruiting some kids to do a show, kind of like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in those classic MGM Andy Hardy films. Perrino was working for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, and the Westwood Town Hall needed summertime programming. He recruited a bunch teens for a production that succeeded so well it became an annual event.

Today, CYPT has hundreds of alumni. In July nearly 100 kids from all over Greater Cincinnati performed in a production of Godspell at Covedale. (The show is usually performed by a cast of 10.) Perrino is kind of like the godfather of local high school musicals.

In 1990 the city of Cincinnati was back in charge of the Showboat Majestic. The floating venue, built in 1923 and docked for many years at the city’s Public Landing, had been a training facility for the University of Cincinnati. But changes in programs at the College-Conservatory of Music meant the Showboat needed a new operator, and Perrino was recruited to take over.

For a few summers he staged summer-stock shows and supplemented them with imported community theater productions. But by 1993 he was producing the entire summer season — usually five or six shows — with new productions under his supervision. Along the way he picked up a pair of co-conspirators.

Jennifer Johnson connected with CYPT as a choreographer in 1986. (In high school, she actually worked at the Covedale when it was still a movie theater.) But Perrino quickly discovered she offered a lot more than fancy footwork.

Her business skills were invaluable to the burgeoning operation. He ensured her ongoing involvement by marrying Jennifer in 2002. Since 2000 she’s been the organization’s business manager and full-time producer.

Denny Reed, with a technical theater degree from Northern Kentucky University, came aboard the Showboat in 1991. He brought the kind of behind-the-scenes know-how that made the threesome into a stable and mutually supportive team of founders.

For nearly two decades, Reed has served in multiple capacities: director, producer, lighting designer, managing director and today as technical director.

With CLP’s production manager, Matt Lape, they constitute the organization’s full-time staff. But the founders and Lape are bolstered by a cast of thousands, particularly CLP Board President Doug Ridenour. In fact, he urged undertaking the renovation of the Covedale, noting that if the Showboat ever ceased to be a viable facility the organization would be back to doing a single show with teenagers in the summertime.

There’s no chance of that today, with the Covedale serving as the now-permanent venue for CYPT and additionally offering a full season of six shows from October through April, when things pick up again on the Showboat.

In addition to the Showboat’s nearly 2,000 subscribers, the Covedale’s season is marching toward the 3,000 threshold. Many theaters in town wish they had those kind of numbers.

The Perrinos, Reed and others have established an organization with many facets. Their mission is to bring cultural and economic benefits to the communities that are home to these historic venues. Simultaneously, CLP develops young theater artists and entertains audiences.

And, while it’s not immediately visible, the group also maintains and preserves two iconic facilities: an 86-year-old showboat (the last of its kind, in fact) and a 62-year-old cinema that likely would have been demolished without CLP’s intervention.

Tim Perrino says that their responsibility for the Showboat means that their work at that facility is one-half running a theater and one-half running a boat.

“We’ve been there when a flood made it break off from the landing,” he laughs. “We had to make things work when it was frozen in and the temperature was 11 degrees. It’s on our shoulders.”

The city of Cincinnati still owns the Showboat, but it’s leased to CLP. Other than emergencies and major repairs, its operation and maintenance is totally CLP’s task.

Perrino and Reed recall how, during the flood of 1997, he was in a rowboat hooking a tow-truck winch to the nearly submerged boarding ramp. Once that was secured, they realized that the Showboat, which had broken loose from its moorings, still had live electrical wires. Their clue: A dropped wrench skidded across the metal deck trailed by a shower of sparks.

Perrino loves to laugh and joke, and he says that shortly after these events he comforted audiences for Jesus Christ Superstar by telling them, “The guy with the lead can walk on water.”

The truth is that Tim and Jennifer Perrino and Denny Reed have worked a lot of miracles with modest means. They’ve done so for decades with thousands of volunteers, performers and satisfied audiences — a big happy family.

Reed is quick to say that they’re not done yet.

“We’ve been around for 20 years,” he points out, “but we’re still a young company in another sense. We have lots yet to do, a lot of goals to be attained. We have a lot to look forward to.”

When CLP took on the Covedale, Reed told Tim Perrino that he thought it was time to “take it up a notch.” In seven years, they’ve done just that.

By keeping it all in the CLP family, these trio has provided countless hours of entertainment for Cincinnati audiences. That’s the continuing achievement that the League of Cincinnati Theatres is recognizing with this deserving award.

The 13th annual CINCINNATI ENTERTAINMENT AWARDS FOR THEATER are Aug. 30 at Below Zero Lounge in Over-the-Rhine. Festivities kick off with a mix-and-mingle happy hour at 6 p.m., followed by awards in 20 categories as well as the CEA Hall of Fame induction. Get event and venue details (including a map) here.
Scroll to read more Theater articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.