Fall Arts Preview: Cincinnati Theaters Prepare New Onstage Offerings

Productions will include comedies, classics, hit musicals and horrors.

click to enlarge Vanessa Severo (left) plays Frida Kahlo in the Playhouse in the Park’s production of Frida...A Self Portrait, while Andrew May plays Hercule Poirot in the Playhouse’s production of Murder on the Orient Express. - Photos: By BrianPaulette (left) and By Zach Rosing
Photos: By BrianPaulette (left) and By Zach Rosing
Vanessa Severo (left) plays Frida Kahlo in the Playhouse in the Park’s production of Frida...A Self Portrait, while Andrew May plays Hercule Poirot in the Playhouse’s production of Murder on the Orient Express.

The advent of September means the start of theater season in Cincinnati, as local companies get ready to launch their 2022-23 productions. The lineups promise everything from dramas and comedies to hit Broadway musicals and the world premiere adaptation of a 1960s horror film. The Playhouse in the Park is finding novel ways — and locations — to produce its shows as construction continues at its new mainstage facility in Eden Park. And Cincinnati’s community theater groups and universities are mounting classics worth revisiting.

After two years of pandemic-related cancellations, limited capacities and perhaps too much streaming, it’s time for live theater again — and there’s plenty to choose from.

Note: Check with each theater for the most up-to-date COVID-19 restrictions.

Know Theatre’s Season 25 is themed “What we owe to each other” and features productions centered around “what it means to be alive, how our lives intertwine and what the risk of truly living can be,” according to the theater. It got the ball rolling early with Sunrise Coven (through Aug. 28), a sharp-tongued comedy about healers, pharmaceuticals and witchcraft. The theater makes a quick turnaround with another show, It’s Not a Trip It’s a Journey (Sept. 23-Oct. 9), a crosscountry road-trip tale about friendships among Black women. Know rounds out its fall season with Lizard Boy (Nov. 18-Dec.
11), an indie-rock musical and self-described “comic-inspired queer fable” about a scale-covered youth in search of love. knowtheatre.com.

Broadway in Cincinnati’s fall season has a four-week blockbuster at the Aronoff Center for the Arts: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning mega-hit Hamilton (Sept. 6-Oct. 2) in a touring production. Later this fall, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical (Oct. 25-Nov. 6) explodes at the Aronoff with a comeback story about a powerhouse performer who broke barriers and overcame adversity on her way to becoming the Queen of rock and roll. cincinnati.broadway.com.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company stages a classic tragedy, King Lear (Sept. 9-Oct. 1), using a concept inspired by the HBO series Succession about families torn apart by ambition and intrigue. Before it opens, you might catch one of the final free Shakespeare in the Park performances of Twelfth Night, including one at Eden Park on Aug. 30. For a very different tragedy, check out the theater’s world premiere of The Living Dead (Oct. 14-29), adapted by Cincinnati playwright Isaiah Reaves from the classic 1968 horror film, just in time for Halloween. It’s the company’s first commission in an emerging new works program developing shows to be fully produced on its main stage. After that, it’s another classic with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (Nov. 11 Dec. 3), adapted by Kate Hamill. The prolific playwright’s rendition of Pride and Prejudice recently was produced by the classic stage company. cincyshakes.com.

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati has just one production this fall — an important and powerful drama very much in keeping with Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers’s focus on works that wrestle with contemporary social issues. Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner Sweat (Sept. 17-Oct. 9) takes audiences to the forgotten heart of America, a neighborhood bar where old friends gather and share challenges in a fraying economy. Many have worked for decades in the same factory, but layoffs now pit them against one another with a divisive, complicating overlay of race and class. Nottage did extensive research with people in Reading, Pennsylvania, to deepen her understanding of the impact of economic decline. She is a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient, and Sweat displays her ability to blend compassion, humor and suspense. ensemblecincinnati.org.

Three off-site productions by the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park happen beyond Eden Park as the theater finishes construction of its new mainstage, slated to open in March. Up first will be the classic mystery Murder on the Orient Express (Sept. 25-Oct. 23) at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theatre. Agatha Christie’s master detective Hercule Poirot is determined to seek out a killer in a crowd of glamorous passengers on a luxury train trapped in a snowdrift. Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of this ingenious golden-age detective story springs to life onstage. The Playhouse’s next production, a one-woman show, Frida … a Self Portrait (Oct. 15-Nov. 6), takes place at The Carnegie in Covington. It is a solo work about renowned Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, told with stunning creativity by writer and performer Vanessa Severo. The third “off-the-hill” Playhouse production will be The Lion (Nov. 12-Dec. 4) on the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater Stage in Price Hill. In it, a singer-songwriter tells his family’s story using emotional monologues and original songs. It’s about the redemptive power of music, coming straight from the London stage for an exclusive engagement here in Cincinnati. cincyplay.com.

The Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre, operated by Cincinnati Landmark Productions, is currently staging Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic golden-age musical Carousel (through Sept. 11). At CLP’s other venue, the Covedale Center for Performing Arts, two shows are in the works. My Way: A Tribute to the Music of Frank Sinatra (Sept. 15-Oct. 9) features 55 songs from the Great American Songbook. That will be followed by the feel-good musical comedy, Sister Act (Oct. 20-Nov. 13), based on the hit 1992 film about a spirited group of nuns hiding a lounge singer in need of witness protection. cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.

Cincinnati’s universities often present classic shows worth seeing — or seeing again. Xavier University, for instance, has three productions: David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole (Sept. 16-18), about a marriage crumbling following a tragic accident; Something Rotten (Oct. 14-22), a very funny musical about Shakespeare and some 16th-century shenanigans; and Thornton Wilder’s 1938 classic, Our Town (Nov. 18-20). xavier.edu. In Highland Heights, the theater program at Northern Kentucky University will stage the intimate musical Violet (Sept. 23-Oct. 2) about a disfigured girl seeking to be healed and made beautiful. Later it will present Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Oct. 27-Nov. 6), a play based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale about a respected scientist who explores his darker alter ego. nku.edu. At the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, the season starts with a tribute featuring works by renowned Broadway musical theater composer Stephen Flaherty, a CCM alum, on Sept. 23. Other productions on the UC/CCM stages include adaptations of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Euripides’ The Trojan Women (Sept. 29-Oct. 2); the charming musical She Loves Me (Oct. 6-9); the Shakespeare-inspired musical comedy Something Rotten (Oct. 20-30); and August Strindberg’s unusual script about whether life is worth living, A Dream Play (Nov. 3-6). ccm.uc.edu.

Community theaters also offer tried-and-true shows. Check out The Footlighters’ Newport production of Stephen Schwartz’s melodic fairytale, Pippin (Sept. 22-Oct. 9). footlighters.org. Or try Cincinnati Music Theatre’s presentation of Leonard Bernstein’s musical Wonderful Town (Nov. 4-12) at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theatre. Set in 1930s New York City, it follows two Ohio sisters and their adventures. cincinnatimusictheatre.org.

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Rick Pender

RICK PENDER has written about theater for CityBeat since its first issues in 1994. Before that he wrote for EveryBody’s News. From 1998 to 2006 he was CityBeat’s arts & entertainment editor. Retired from a long career in public relations, he’s still a local arts fan, providing readers (and public radio listeners)...
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