Stage Door: Groucho, Peter Pan, Rosie and a Diva Nun

Productions gracing local stages right now offer quick-witted comedy, swashbuckling adventure, intrigue and at least one disco diva in a convent.

click to enlarge Frank Ferrante as Groucho Marx - photo courtesy of Frank Ferrante Productions
photo courtesy of Frank Ferrante Productions
Frank Ferrante as Groucho Marx

It’s been three decades since Groucho Marx passed away, but his iconic presence as a comic genius has not faded. A master of physical and verbal humor, Marx’s exaggerated presence — overextended eyebrows and mustache, glasses and a cigar — and quick wit are still readily recognized. Actor Frank Ferrante has helped to sustain Marx’s image, playing him onstage for more than 30 years. His performance of An Evening with Groucho, which has been seen on PBS, is onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage, where it’s being offered through until Dec. 17 (although based on past holiday shows, it’s likely to be extended). I was at the opening last evening, and it’s like stepping back in time to experience a full-throated performance by the zany comic. Ferrante sings a handful of Groucho’s best-known tunes (“Hello, I Must Be Going,” “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”) accompanied by pianist Gerald Sternbach, and he reminisces about his brothers and other famous comics of his acquaintance. But the best moments are his ad libbed interactions with audience members, in Groucho’s flip, quip-laced style. Ferrante has the physicality nailed, but it’s the quick retorts and spur-of-the-moment lines that really get the audience going. His performance is a hilarious entertainment, and a second visit wouldn’t be out of the question, since so much of what he does is specific to the evening’s audience.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time wraps up on Saturday evening on the Playhouse’s main stage. It’s a fascinating drama, a story told from the perspective of an adventurous teenaged boy who clearly lives on the autism spectrum. He’s awkward and forthright, but also sensitive and thoughtful. Nick LaMedica offers a bravura performance as Christopher in a production that’s very imaginatively staged by director Marcia Milgrom Dodge. This will be your last chance to see the show that’s appearing on many regional theater stages this season. Playhouse tickets: http://www.cincyplay.com

J.M. Barrie is the playwright who created the tale of Peter Pan a century ago. The Broadway musical Finding Neverland tells a version of his story. Hard-pressed by his anxious producer for a new work, Barrie was inspired by four rambunctious boys to create the make-believe world of pirates and Lost Boys. The touring production at the Aronoff through Nov. 19 has some fine talent in the central roles, especially Billy Harrigan Tighe (a 2007 CCM musical theater grad) as Barrie and longtime TV game show host John Davidson as the producer (and Captain Hook), plus a set of very talented kids to play the four young brothers. This Broadway Series presentation is a spectacle of imaginative scenery, dazzling special effects and energetic choreography. The score is pleasant if not memorable, and the amusingly told backstage story has some highly entertaining moments. Tickets: http://www.Cincinnati.broadway.com/shows/tickets

Three years ago during the holidays, the Cincinnati Playhouse had a box-office hit with Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, a two-actor piece by local writers Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. Now the story of the Northern Kentucky girl singer who rose to movie and recording fame in the ’40s and ’50s is being produced by the Carnegie in Covington. Kim Schroeder Long plays Rosie and Allen R. Middleton as her doctor — and a lot of other people in her life. Dee Anne Bryll and Ed Cohen, the local husband-and-wife directing team with a track record for excellent shows on local stages, are staging the production. Through Nov. 19. Tickets: http://www.thecarnegie.com

You might think of the Aronoff’s big hall (where Finding Neverland is onstage) is the only venue in the performing arts center, but you can often find good productions at the smaller Jarson-Kaplan Theater on the south end of the building. One of the city’s best community theaters, Cincinnati Music Theatre is presently offering Sister Act, the story of a disco diva hiding out in a convent after witnessing a murder. (You might recall the 1992 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg.) Adia Dobbins, another CCM musical theater grad, is playing Deloris; she’s toured in Broadway shows and sang the national anthem at a Reds game this season — so she has the chops for the role. CMT’s volunteers put their all into productions, so this one is surely worth checking out. Through Nov. 18. Tickets: http://www.CincinnatiMusicTheatre.org

Also on local stages: Falcon Theater in Newport is producing, Poor Behavior, a play by born-and-bred Cincinnati playwright Theresa Rebeck. It’s a boozy dinner that leads to an evening of volatile and sexually charged arguing between two couples on a weekend getaway. Tickets: http://www.falcontheater.net … Another option: The Drowning Girls, presented by Clifton Players at a new (for them) venue, Liberty Exhibition Hall (3938 Spring Grove Ave., Northside). It’s the story of three women (presently dead) telling the stories of the philanderer who married — and drowned — each of them. Tickets: http://www.cliftonperformancetheatre.com

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

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