The storyline of Little Shop of Horrors at the Cincinnati Playhouse might sound a bit concerning — about a carnivorous plant that lusts for human blood. (In fact, it’s derived from a cult-favorite 1962 horror film.) But as a musical, it’s told with such wit and good humor that you’re more apt to sing along than to be frightened. There’s a funny love story between two people who’d finish in a tie for lacking self-esteem. There’s a trio of girl-group singers who keeps the story moving with sass and swing. And there’s a monstrous plant that keeps growing and demanding more. The tunes (by the pair whose music is well known for Disney animated films like Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid and Aladdin) are ’60s-style Motown, plus a few power ballads. If you like musicals, I’m pretty sure you’ll have a ball at this production. Critic’s Pick.
A different kind of scary situation has its final performances this weekend at Ensemble Theatre. First Date is a musical about one of the most fear-inducing situations imaginable: a blind date. A nerdy guy and a more experienced gal find themselves in a restaurant bar together because some others set them up. They seem not to have much in common, and things are ready to go from bad to worse, especially as other restaurant patrons turn into former fiancées, bad boyfriends, a grandma and a fretful sister. Although it seems unlikely at the beginning — and there are some scary derailments along the road to romance — things actually turn out OK, with a lot of good humor along the way. Critic’s Pick.
You might expect a love story produced by Know Theatre to be a bit more off-kilter, and that’s exactly what you’ll find in Jenny Connell Davis’ Dragon Play. There are fire-breathing dragons in this story, although actors who are quite human play them with no fancy costumes. Their emotions are genuinely human, following the trajectories of young love as well as marital happiness and dissatisfaction, that unfold in some unexpected ways. This is an inventive and poetic piece of theater that requires a bit of concentration and some willingness to watch stories that don’t initially seem connected. But stick with it, and you’ll be glad you did. Critic’s Pick.
Still onstage elsewhere: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at Falcon Theatre in Newport, Ky. and Henry VI: The Wars of the Roses, Part 2 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (both through Feb.11); and Doubt, A Parable at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts (through Feb. 12).
Dayton’s Human Race Theatre Company is presenting the world premiere of a show that might be worth a drive up I-75: Eric Ulloa’s 26 Pebbles. It’s the story of how people in Newtown, Conn., reacted to the tragic deaths of 20 innocent children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. Ulloa interviewed people in this small New England town about the traumatic events of a school shooting and the aftermath. The playwright says it’s about death. “Those are just the circumstances. It is the story of hope and family and of community. It is the story of the human condition.” Opening tonight, onstage through Feb. 19. Tickets: 937-228-3630.
An interesting midweek choice at noon next Wednesday: Number, Puleeze, a set of short plays about conversations between men and women presented by Play with Your Lunch at noon at Memorial Hall on Elm Street adjacent to Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. Four respected local actors — Dale Hodges, Kevin Crowley, Brooke Steele and Patrick E. Phillips — perform Sure Thing, about a budding romance; Smoking, about a marriage in need of a shot of energy; and Signs of Life, about the possibility of new life for a widow. Admission ($35) includes a catered lunch from Eli’s BBQ. Reservations: 513-977-8837 or at memorialhallotr.com.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.