This story is featured in CityBeat's Sept. 6 print edition.
If you’re a theater fan, September is welcomed as the month when Cincinnati’s local theaters launch their new seasons. If you’re someone who’s just been thinking about checking out a show or two, well, you’re in the right place, too. Already underway is Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (through Oct. 1). Cash’s timeless country songs are arranged to create a portrait of 20th-century America. For a more contemporary category of music, we have the touring production of MJ The Musical, the story of Michael Jackson’s early career, at the Aronoff Center for the Arts through Sept. 17.
If you prefer drama, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has a classic thriller Gaslight, running from Sept. 8-24. Based on the 1944 movie, it’s the story of a young wife whose reality is twisted by her manipulative husband, leading her to question the truth and his intentions. The story of a manipulative husband who tries to drive his young bride mad through psychological abuse has been newly adapted for the stage by prolific playwright Steven Dietz. This play’s world premiere is produced in partnership with the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Massachusetts, where it had its first production earlier this year.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati will stage What the Constitution Means to Me (Sept. 9-Oct. 1). Playwright Heidi Schreck based her critically acclaimed play from 2017 on her experience as a 15-year-old who earned her college tuition by winning constitutional debate competitions across the U.S. It’s both hilarious and hopeful, asking big questions about America’s next generation with a dose of humor and optimism.
Know Theatre is the venue for off-beat scripts. Monsters of the American Cinema (Sept. 22-Oct. 8) is a heartwarming, two-character drama about race, sexuality and family in which a gay Black man struggles to raise his late partner’s straight White teenage son. By Christian St. Croix, a fast-rising playwright from San Diego, the play debuted there in 2019.
Musical theater choices include Bright Star at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Covedale Theatre. Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s Bright Star (Sept. 7-Oct. 1) tells a true story of love and redemption in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in 1945-1946, with flashbacks to the 1920s. The 2016 Broadway production received five Tony nominations, and its bluegrass score recording won a 2017 Grammy.
The 1966 musical Sweet Charity at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (Sept. 28-30) gets a short run later this month. With a book by playwright Neil Simon, it’s about the romantic ups and downs of Charity Hope Valentine, an optimistic prostitute who works as a taxi dancer in a Times Square dance hall. Gwen Verdon originated the role on Broadway, and Shirley MacLaine filled it in a 1969 movie.
In October local stages will have productions that are both provocative and entertaining. The Cincinnati Playhouse will present Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s (Oct. 14-Nov. 5), the most-produced play on American stages during the 2022-2023 season. It’s set at a truck-stop sandwich shop that gives its once-incarcerated kitchen staff a shot at reclaiming their lives. An unusual musical, the national tour of Girl from the North Country (Oct. 17-29 at the Aronoff Center), uses songs by Bob Dylan to tell the life-affirming story of wayward travelers in a boarding house in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1934. It was well-received on Broadway in 2020, interrupted by the COVID pandemic but returned in 2021-2022.
If you prefer something brand new, there will be the world premiere by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company of Wrecking Ball (Oct. 13-28). In this caustic contemporary comedy, a team of TV screenwriters struggles to adapt a beloved but controversial classic play. Playwright Zina Camblin is a Cincinnati native and a graduate of the School for Creative and Performing Arts. Her plays have been produced nationwide, but this is her first work to be staged for Cincinnati audiences.
Don’t lose track of productions at local universities. They are affordable and offer both traditional works and new plays. UC, Northern Kentucky University and Xavier University have fine theater programs to train performers for the professional stage. Catch them now, and it’s likely you’ll see them again on local professional stages or even on Broadway.
Xavier University will stage three shows across an interesting spectrum. Up first will be Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information (Sept. 15-17), a fast-moving, avant-garde kaleidoscope with more than a hundred characters trying to piece together what they know. It will be followed by the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a singing nun and a family of musical kids, The Sound of Music (Oct. 19-22), and then one of Shakespeare’s loveliest romantic comedies, Twelfth Night (Nov. 17-19).
NKU has two offerings. It will present The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Sept. 28-Oct. 8) by Simon Stephens, the fascinating story of an autistic teen who investigates the death of a neighbor’s dog. Later NKU will offer 9-5 The Musical (Nov. 3-11), with tunes by Dolly Parton, based on the 1980 hit movie about three women coworkers who conspire to teach their misogynistic boss a lesson.
At UC, in addition to the musical theater program’s already mentioned production of Sweet Charity, the CCM acting program will present two interesting dramas. Everybody (Oct. 5-7) is a modern riff on the 15th-century morality play Everyman. Life is determined by chance, and so is the cast: Roles are reassigned at each performance by lottery. Later in the month, Let the Right One In (Oct. 19-28) by Jack Thorne is a collaboration with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company: Four professional actors will join a cast of UC student actors for this unusual vampire myth that’s also a coming-of-age love story. It’s about a bullied teenage boy and a strange girl who lives next door who has been a teenager for a very long time. It will be staged by Brian Isaac Phillips, Cincy Shakes’ artistic director.
Get ready — here comes a season of theater!
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