Fall Arts Preview: Theater

Despite New Stage Collective's demise, new local theater season has much to offer

Sep 2, 2009 at 2:06 pm
The landscape of Cincinnati theater has changed since a year ago. As the 2009-10 season starts this week, New Stage Collective is gone and the leaders of Know Theatre of Cincinnati have moved on to new jobs. It’s a momentous year for the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, marking its 50th anniversary with beloved revivals and world premieres, and Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC), which will present several very new plays. Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (CSC) continues to stage excellent classic material.

While New Stage folded in May, its ambitious artistic director is still in town. Alan Patrick Kenny is staging the regional premiere of the musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels for Covington’s Carnegie Center (Sept. 4-20), and he’ll follow that with the classic drama Equus by Peter Shaffer for New Edgecliff Theatre (Oct. 1-17).

Know Theatre’s Jay Kalagayan announced in May his intention to leave the company he founded in 1997; he was recently named director of development for Cincinnati Ballet. On Aug. 23, Artistic Director Jason Bruffy was appointed to lead Salt Lake Acting Company. But Know’s season is already set, and guest directors have been recruited for each production. Drew Fracher will stage Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Boom (Oct. 10-31), a “doomsday comedy.”

CSC opens with a promising classic from 1966: The Lion in Winter by James Goldman (Sept. 11-Oct. 11). It’s a compelling drama about love and politics in 12th-century England. Bruce Cromer is playing King Henry II and Sherman Fracher is Eleanor of Aquitaine, his feisty and contentious wife (pictured). In October, Giles Davies, a popular CSC veteran, returns to town for a one-man show about Edgar Allan Poe (Oct. 24-Nov. 8).

The Playhouse’s anniversary season looks back and to the future. It opens with the cat-and-mouse detective thriller Sleuth (Sept. 10-Oct. 3), originally presented in 1985. For the holidays, in addition to the 19th iteration of A Christmas Carol (Dec. 3-30), it will offer the Bluegrass musical Sanders Family Christmas: More Smoke on the Mountain (Nov. 12-Dec. 31), a big hit in 1999.

But the Playhouse is also developing shows for years ahead, leading off with a newly commissioned work, Victoria Musica (Oct. 1-25) by Michele Lowe, that will be the season's first production in the Shelterhouse. It’s the story of a music critic who doubts the authenticity of the best-selling recordings by a recently deceased cellist.

A script by Anton Chekhov is hardly 38 new, but the Playhouse’s presentation of The Three Sisters (Oct. 29-Nov. 21) has its eye on a life beyond Cincinnati. The script is a new version of the classic play by Sarah Ruhl, one of America’s most admired young playwrights. (Her play The Clean House was a past Playhouse hit, winning the 2006 CEA for best local premiere.) Three Sisters will be directed by John Doyle, whose staging of Stephen Sondheim’s Company for the Playhouse moved to Broadway and won a Tony Award, and his cast is full of veteran New York actors. The British director’s musicals have won him much note (and Tony recognition); this will be his first non-musical in the United States.

A 2008 play by Ruhl turns up at ETC, where Dead Man’s Cell Phone (Oct. 7-25) will be presented just prior the Playhouse’s Three Sisters. It’s about a woman who answers a wayward cell phone that belonged to a man who died in a restaurant.

ETC begins its 24th season this week with Moisés Kaufman’s 33 Variations (Sept. 2-20), a 2009 Tony nominee. The story of a musicologist who becomes obsessed with Beethoven’s motivation for repeatedly reinventing a mundane piece of music by Anton Diabelli is receiving only its second production in the United States at ETC.

Kaufman’s powerful 2000 script, The Laramie Project, about the 1998 gay-bashing death of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, has been updated and will be presented in readings across America on Oct. 12, the 11th anniversary of Shepard’s murder. Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers has worked closely with Kaufman to be the local presenter at ETC.

UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) celebrates the 40th anniversary of its renowned musical theater program this fall with a production of the Rock musical Hair (Nov. 14-21), which also debuted in 1969. CCM grads are regularly seen on Broadway, and many will return for a weekend of reminiscing.

This fall will offer several familiar titles that theater lovers will want to catch: My Fair Lady (Showboat Majestic Sept. 9-27); The Color Purple (Broadway in Cincinnati Sept. 29-Oct. 4); and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Covedale Center Oct. 29-Nov. 15). Of particular interest to Rock musical fans is a touring production of Rent (Aronoff Center Oct. 28-Nov. 1). The tour of the 1996 Tony Award-winning musical features two members of the original cast: Adam Pascal, a Tony nominee as Roger, and Anthony Rapp as videographer Mark.