I was disappointed by a recent ho-hum performance at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, but the third and final entry in its 2016 Summer Classics season, Kander's and Ebb’s Chicago, hearkens back to the engaging productions that sold out performances during the theater’s debut season last year. That’s largely thanks to a pair of bravura performances by the show’s two leading actresses, Hannah Gregory as Roxie Hart and Alex Caldwell as Velma Kelly. Gregory totally captures the sweetly manipulative Hart and puts her across with smiles and winks that let you see behind her feigned innocence; Caldwell embodies the ice-cold Kelly while generating a lot of heat with her stellar dancing.
They stand out, but every role is well cast: Lesley Hitch as the brassy Mama Morton, Tyler Gau as Roxie’s hapless husband; and Dave Wilson as the scheming attorney Billy Flynn — they each have stand-out numbers in this “story of murder, greed, corruption, violence exploitation, adultery and treachery — all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts.” The ensemble performers backing the Roaring ’20s vaudeville action get to shine, too, as singers, actors and dancers. And it’s nice to see the fine orchestra onstage, especially the featured piano playing of Scot Woolley. This one gets a Critic’s Pick. It’s onstage through Sept. 4. Tickets: 513-241-6550. P.S. The Incline just announced its 2017 summer season: the baseball-themed musical Damn Yankees, Noël Coward’s comedy Blithe Spirit and the effervescent 2006 Tony-winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone.
Want to see some theater that’s brand-new? Cincinnati LAB Theatre has the second and final weekend of performances and readings at Newport’s Falcon Theatre (636 Monmouth St.). Tonight at 8 p.m. it’s Chase the Dragon by Kirk Sheppard, a Cincinnati theater blogger who goes by the moniker of “The Sappy Critic.” But there’s nothing sappy about his new script, his first venture into writing for the stage, a play about the lives of at-risk youth and what happens when we don’t have a handle on our own history. I saw a performance a week ago: It has a fine cast, led by Carter Bratton as Peter, a freshly minted case worker, and Rupert Spraul, who plays a teen with a lot of issues. There’s some humor in the story, but a lot more sobering insights into how such cases are handled — and how things can go off the tracks. Between the steady directorial hand of Jared D. Doren and Sheppard’s insightful writing, this is a promising debut both for the writer and his play.
Saturday at 8 p.m. is Elizabeth Harris’ Judas, the New Works Festival’s second full production. It’s a different take on Jesus’ most reviled disciple, asking, “What would you do if the person you loved the most in the world asked you to perform the ultimate betrayal for the good of humanity?” If you arrive at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, you’ll also have a chance to listen to a reading of Valetta Anderson’s script in progress, Medusa. Tickets: brownpapertickets.com.
If you grew up in the 1980s you’ll recognize the tunes used in Rock of Ages at the Carnegie in Covington, opening Saturday evening: “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Sister Christian” and “We Built This City.” It’s about a Rock club threatened by urban renewal and a pair of starstruck wannabe performers who fall in love but keep getting derailed. Sure, it’s a jukebox show that’s mostly about fitting the tunes into the story, but it’s fun from start to finish. I suspect lots of audience members will have a total blast. Through Aug. 28. Tickets: 859-957-1940.
Still onstage and worth seeing: The in-the-moment love story Girlfriend at Know Theatre in Over-the-Rhine through Aug. 27 and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s riotous romp through literary classics, All the Great Books (abridged), which wraps up Saturday evening.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.