Blake Robison wants the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park to be at the forefront of Cincinnati’s cultural conversation. “It’s our responsibility to bring the best theatrical material, both old and new, to our community,” he told me in a recent conversation prior to announcing his 2014-15 season earlier this week. I’d say he’s done just that with a season offering 10 new productions, featuring a homegrown world premiere, two Tony Award-winners, several recent New York hits and musical tributes to Johnny Cash and Rosemary Clooney.
On the Marx Theatre mainstage, we’ll see Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club (September 2014), using Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective in a story by Robert Louis Stevenson. Keith Josef Adkins is a Cincinnati native; his play Safe House (October-November 2014), which had a February reading at the Playhouse, will be a world premiere production about free people of color in Kentucky before the Civil War. It happens to be rooted in Adkins’ own family history. Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash (January-February 2015) will feature and be directed by Jason Edwards, who starred in the bio-musical on Broadway. Robison says the show has been significantly reworked in order to be performed by 10 actor-musicians. Robison will direct Peter and the Starcatcher (March 2015), a winner of numerous New York awards in 2012; it’s a prequel to Peter Pan that he expects will appeal to families. Not many theaters are producing this hit show, because it has a national tour this year. It’s also a co-production with a new partner, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. The Marx season wraps up with Christopher Durang’s comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (May 2015). The 2013 Tony Award-winning best play is a comedy with characters inspired by Anton Chekhov but living in today’s world.
The Playhouse’s smaller Shelterhouse stage begins its season with I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti (October 2014), based on Giulia Melucci’s foodie memoir. For the holidays, Robison will stage Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical (November-December 2014), a show by the local team of Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman about the singer’s Cincinnati childhood and rise to Hollywood stardom. Chapatti (February 2015), a warm and offbeat Irish tale, is about two senior-citizen pet lovers who are reminded of the importance of human companionship. Renowned Chicago-based playwright Tracey Scott Wilson’s Buzzer (March-April 2015) is about a young black lawyer who moves back to his gentrified neighborhood. (It’s being staged at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre this month.) The final Shelterhouse production of the season will be Circle Mirror Transformation (May-June 2015), Annie Baker’s play about people in an acting class and what they really learn. It was an Off-Broadway hit in 2009.
Last week Cincinnati Shakespeare Company announced its 2014-15 season, which starts in July. Although it is committed to staging works by Shakespeare, Cincy Shakes also presents definitive works of drama and literary classics adapted for the stage. There will be three Shakespeare plays for its 21st season, including a holiday staging of the silly but hilarious The Comedy of Errors. With a production of Henry V, the company takes another step in its epic, five-year, eight-play history cycle that began with Richard II. Additionally, in April 2015 the comic battle of the sexes, The Taming of the Shrew, returns. It’s a popular work that Cincy Shakes staged during its first season in 1994 (and brought back in 1999, 2003 and 2009).
Aside from Shakespeare’s works, Cincy Shakes’ coming season will offer stage versions of two American classics: a new adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic The Great Gatsby and the regional premiere of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Around Halloween, Daphne du Maurier’s thriller, The Birds (the source of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film) will show up in an adaptation by Irish playwright Conor McPherson (known for locally staged works including St. Nicholas, The Weir, Port Authority, Shining City and The Seafarer). Of particular interest to followers of the local theater scene, Joneal Joplin (a longtime Playhouse Scrooge) and Bruce Cromer (the current Scrooge) will star in Samuel Beckett’s profound comedy, Waiting for Godot. Brent Vimtrup and Jim Hopkins round out the cast for a production that promises to be a season highlight. The season concludes in June 2015 with the Cincinnati debut of Richard Bean’s award-winning comedy, One Man, Two Guvnors, a 2011 play based on Carlo Goldoni’s 1743 comic masterpiece, The Servant of Two Masters.
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