Catch a Show Starring Someone You Know

There’s plenty about our professional theater scene here in Cincinnati to keep me busy writing, but I like to switch gears occasionally and talk about work that’s being done by “amateurs.”

May 11, 2016 at 11:55 am

There’s plenty about our professional theater scene here in Cincinnati to keep me busy writing, but I like to switch gears occasionally and talk about work that’s being done by “amateurs.” I put that term in quotes because quite a few of our community theaters produce shows of very high quality using volunteers — people from neighborhoods all over town. I bet you know someone who’s involved.

The shows they produce are worth seeing. Two coming up are local premieres of recent Broadway musicals, certainly worthy of the attention of local theater fans. Currently at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater is Cincinnati Music Theatre’s production of Big Fish, which was on Broadway in 2013. CMT is perhaps the city’s most ambitious community theater, staging works including high-flying shows like Peter Pan (2014) and Mary Poppins last fall. They’ve been at it for a long time, dating back to the early 1960s, and they are an anchor tenant at the Aronoff, having produced Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd back in the fall of 1995, and two shows a year over the past two decades.

Big Fish is based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 book, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, and Tim Burton’s 2003 movie inspired by the book. It’s about Edward Bloom, a teller of tall tales, and his son Will, who learns many of the secrets his father never revealed. The show, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, was nominated for several Drama Desk Awards. The magical tale has been compared to everything from The Odyssey to The Wizard of Oz. One critic described it as “earnest, family friendly and heartwarming.” Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Showbiz Players has a more recent origin than CMT, and its choices of musicals are a bit edgier; last fall it staged The Rocky Horror Picture Show. They’ve been around since 1986 and have taken on several lesser-known works, including adventurous pieces such as Urinetown, Spring Awakening and Carrie: The Musical. They’ve made their home at The Carnegie in Covington for several seasons, and that’s where they’re staging Catch Me If You Can May 13-22.

The show is a musical version of the 2002 movie of the same name, the story of a con artist named Frank Abagnale, Jr. It was on Broadway in 2011, where it received four Tony Award nominations, including one for best musical. (Playing the work-obsessed FBI agent pursing Abagnale and winning a Tony Award for his performance was Norbert Leo Butz, who played Edward Bloom two years later in Big Fish.) The musical’s script was written by Terrence McNally (his Mothers and Sons was recently onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse), and it features music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the guys who created the megahit Hairspray and a score that sounds like Motown-style Pop tunes.

The show portrays many of Abagnale’s elaborate deceptions and screwball antics as he hops from continent to continent pulling off various schemes and scams. The show’s narrative follows his escapades as he dances along just ahead of the law. Lots of choreography keeps this lighthearted show entertaining, and I suspect that Showbiz Players has the talent to pull it off. Call 859-957-1940 for tickets.

One more facet of local theater I want to share is the upcoming Cappies, the awards program for high school performers. Nearly two dozen area schools participate in this program, which recognizes kids and productions from the previous school year.

I’m especially happy to support this because it employs young writers to review productions at one another’s schools. That encourages the kind of cross-pollination and mutual respect that makes the Cappies quite distinct from high school sports, which can be hyper-competitive. Of course, there’s a lot of cheering by kids for their school’s productions and actors when the awards are handed out in a big event at the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall. But there’s also healthy recognition that every school’s shows and their young performers are out to produce engaging, entertaining theater.

For several years, I’ve helped recognize outstanding writing by the student reviewers. Again this year, I had the opportunity to evaluate a half-dozen essays selected by the Cappies organizers. I’ve chosen the year’s outstanding review, to be presented at the awards on May 27. I’ll invite that individual to be a member of the review team I organize for this year’s Cincinnati Fringe Festival in June. And I know they’ll do a great job.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]