Stage Door: First love, great books, outdoor Shakespeare and more

'Girlfriend,' a musical that draws its songs from Matthew Sweet's 1991 Pop album of the same name, opens tonight at Know Theatre.

click to enlarge Cary Davenport as Mike & Montez O. Jenkins-Copeland as Will in 'Girlfriend' at Know Theatre. - Photo: Dan R. Winters Photography
Photo: Dan R. Winters Photography
Cary Davenport as Mike & Montez O. Jenkins-Copeland as Will in 'Girlfriend' at Know Theatre.

Some great theater can be found onstage locally this weekend.

“I honestly felt like I was the only gay kid in my town — which wasn’t true, I now know — and I thought I was probably the only gay kid in my state, which of course is not true. But that sensation was pretty potent at that time.” Those are Todd Almond’s words, the playwright who created Girlfriend, opening tonight at Know Theatre. The musical draws its songs from Matthew Sweet’s 1991 Pop album of the same name. “There's an operatic-ness about love within that album, and maybe I was just feeling so alone in Nebraska. I wanted so desperately to be in love like the people around me that I saw having this experience.”

In a recent email, Almond, a 1999 University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music grad, told me the idea for this show came to him as he was leaving UC. He had been a voice major, but drama professor Richard Hess “let me play in the theater department. He cast me in plays and let me produce short plays I’d written.” Almond departed Cincinnati with serious training and some big ideas.Today in New York City, he’s still working on them as a playwright, composer and performer. Following graduation, he turned in memorable performances at Ensemble Theatre in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001, 2003) and I Am My Own Wife (2005). “ETC’S Lynn Meyers kept giving me these incredible roles which let me feel like a serious theater artist. Opportunity and responsibility — Cincinnati gave me both.”

He’s thrilled that Know is producing Girlfriend. “The musical means so much to me. I wanted to get at those complex yet very simple feelings attached to first love and the music that gets the closest to our spines. What we listen to right around the time our hearts are first broken is the most powerful music for us all.” That’s what this show is about: two teenage boys experiencing first love in Nebraska in the 1990s, one a social outcast, the other a quintessential jock. In fact, it’s a story for anyone who grew up in a small town — or a close-knit neighborhood — and maybe didn’t fit in. Onstage through Aug. 27. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

I caught up with All the Great Books (Abridged) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company last evening, and I agree wholeheartedly with Erica Reid’s CityBeat review in which she called it “a light, cornball show with high energy and a great cast. The show’s broad humor is easy to find your way into, bookworm or no. Audiences might not gain much new insight into the classics, but if they’re anything like me, they’ll be reminded why they fell in love with Don Quixote or Huckleberry Finn in the first place.” Onstage through Aug. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Starting this weekend, Cincy Shakes also sends some of its youthful performers around the Tristate to perform Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in area parks. They’ll perform Macbeth 7 p.m. tonight in  Eden Park, and Saturday evening at 7 p.m., they'll take the show to Madeira’s McDonald Commons Park. Sunday evening at 7 p.m. you can see them stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. Performances are free. Check for a schedule of August performances.

Cincinnati Landmark Productions wraps up its production of the musical Baby at the Warsaw Incline Federal Theater this weekend. Meanwhile, it’s launched the annual Cincinnati Young People’s Theatre show at the Covedale Center. This year, it’s the classic musical West Side Story with a cast of students from 32 schools in Ohio and Kentucky, who translate Romeo and Juliet’s story to the world of warring teen gangs in mid-century New York City. Lots of high energy and a great score by Leonard Bernstein, telling a tale of young love that goes tragically wrong. Through Aug. 7. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

While it’s not theater, it’s sure to be dramatic on Sunday evening when nearly 100 volunteer singers assemble for SummerSing at Christ Church Cathedral downtown (318 East 4th St.) on Sunday night to perform Mozart’s powerful "Requiem Mass in D Minor." They’re from choirs all over the Tristate — including the Young Professionals Choral Collective — and have been practicing all week for this singular performance, directed by Christopher Eanes, leader of Collegium Cincinnati. $20 tickets ($17 for students and seniors) can be purchased online here

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

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