Onstage: Large and Small

Ed Stern's 16th Playhouse season will restage hits and shrink classics

Mar 14, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Tim Fuller

Tina Fabrique as Ella Fitzgerald at the Playhouse.

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's Ed Stern has been on the road a lot lately. I talked with him by phone recently in Delaware, where he's directing a grad student production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

But the producing artistic director has found time to map his 16th season for the Cincinnati theater, announced this week. Stern will present nine new productions on the Playhouse's Marx and Shelterhouse stages. The larger Marx will offer mostly titles that are audience pleasers, plus one dark horse. The more intimate Shelterhouse, interestingly, has an array of big stories told on a small scale. (The Playhouse will present two additional shows: A Christmas Carol and the Kaplan New Play Prize recipient, not yet selected.)

The Marx offers big titles, starting with Dracula, a 1995 show that set box-office records in Stern's third season. He's bringing back the script once used by Bela Lugosi, director Stephen Hollis and some special effects that made audiences' blood run cold.

Dracula will be followed by Altar Boyz, a clever musical about a Christian boy band that's still an off-Broadway and touring hit.

Original director Stafford Arima will re-stage it for Cincinnati audiences.

Stern says, "I saw it assuming I would hate it, and I just had a blast. It has a good book, and the music is good! It's unlike anything we've ever done on the main stage."

The Marx season will bring John Patrick Shanley's award-winning Doubt, a searing drama about a priest whom a nun suspects of molesting a young boy and a show Stern says "we had to do." It landed a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 2004. Stern saw Doubt at the Manhattan Theatre Club before it moved to Broadway, and he believes it's a script that will be well served by the immediacy of the Marx's thrust stage.

The Marx will also offer Ella, a re-creation of "the sensibility and the soul," according to Stern, of Jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. It features Broadway veteran Tina Fabrique, who has performed it in Connecticut, Arizona and Florida during the past year.

The unexpected title for the Marx is the U.S. premiere of The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead, by Australian playwright Robert Hewett. It was a surprise hit at last summer's Stratford Festival in Ontario, and several Playhouse patrons told Stern it was a good choice for Cincinnati. It's about a desperate housewife confronting a rival for her husband at a shopping mall — with all roles performed by one actress. While the playwright prefers to define it as "a play," Stern says it's "part drama, part comedy, part mystery,"

The 2007-2008 Shelterhouse season will intrigue audiences by telling large stories in a restricted space. First up is Shakespeare's Othello, a "domestic tragedy" Stern has dreamed for a decade about presenting in the Shelterhouse, which hasn't had a Shakespearean production since the Marx opened in 1968. "This will be very different for Playhouse audiences," he observes, noting that it will be done with nine actors.

For the holiday season, Stern will offer five musicals in one — or rather one musical tale done five different ways. The Musical of Musicals: The Musical was a cult hit in New York two years ago, taking the simple tale of an innocent girl, an evil landlord and a hero and translating it through the filter of familiar musical theater creators including Rodgers & Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim. The show's original director, Pam Hunt, will stage it.

The Shelterhouse will also offer a three-actor retelling of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and five performers in a new version of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days. Stern says Crime is a startlingly compelling rendition in 90 minutes. World, he marvels, presents "the entire world with the most meager of means — it's a celebration of theater."

That's the mindset Stern has for the coming season. I suspect audiences will celebrate with him. ©

2007-08 Playhouse Season
Dracula (Sept. 6-Oct. 5, Marx)

Othello (Sept. 27-Oct. 21, Shelterhouse)

Altar Boyz (Oct. 18-Nov. 16, Marx)

The Musical of Musicals: The Musical (Nov. 8-Dec. 23, Shelterhouse)

A Christmas Carol (Dec. 6-30, Marx)

The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead (Jan. 17-Feb. 15, 2008, Marx)

Crime and Punishment (Feb. 7-March 2, 2008, Shelterhouse)

Doubt (March 6-April 4, 2008, Marx)

TBA: Mickey Kaplan New American Play Prize (March 27-April 20, 2008, Shelterhouse)

Ella (April 24-May 23, 2008, Marx)

Around the World in 80 Days (May 15-June 8, 2008, Shelterhouse)