Stage Door: Storms, Tunes, Battles and Mysteries

Make sure to catch Cincy Shakes' terrific production of 'The Tempest' between now and May 20 — it's the theater's final production at its Race Street home before moving to its new location in Over-the-Rhine.

click to enlarge "The Tempest" at Cincy Shakes - Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
"The Tempest" at Cincy Shakes
Shakespeare’s The Tempest is the final production presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company at its Race Street theater. (In September it will move operations to its new theater at Elm and 12th streets in Over-the-Rhine.) The Tempest, which happens to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote, is the perfect piece to do this: It has an autumnal quality of things drawing to a close while still celebrating the magic that makes theater a joy to experience. One of Cincy Shakes’ founders, Nick Rose, takes on the role of the magician Prospero. He’s been banished to an island and seeks revenge, but along the way he learns the power of forgiveness. There are young lovers (between Aiden Sims and Crystian Wiltshire), great comedians (thanks to Billy Chace, Justin McCombs and Geoffrey Warren Barnes II) and a truly lovely and lithe fairy spirit (Caitlin McWethy as Ariel). The production is staged with a truly amazing scenic design that fittingly puts a period on Cincy Shakes’ 18-year run at a theater with physical limitations but unlimited imagination. Read more about this production in my recent Curtain Call column. If a production can be this good on this stage, we’re in for some truly amazing work in the new digs later this year. Go see The Tempest (it closes on May 20) for the pure joy of great theater and to have a basis of comparison for what’s coming. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

If you’re a fan of Pop music, especially tunes from the late ’50s and early ’60s, you need to beat a path to the Aronoff Center for the touring production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, in town through May 14. I gave this one a Critic’s Pick in my CityBeat review, not just for the tunes — one hit after another, created by a composer just barely out of her teens — but also for the story of some of the roots of Rock & Roll. After her marriage came apart, King went on to even greater heights with her legendary album, Tapestry, in which every song has become a standard. Julia Knitel, who played King on Broadway for a year, is touring — and she’s a knockout in the role. But the whole cast is great fun to watch, often recreating the songs and the groups that recorded them. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

At the Carnegie in Covington, you have the chance to see Frank Wildhorn’s The Civil War, presented by Showbiz Players as their final show after a 30-year run. The community theater has assembled a big, talented cast — they portray Union and Confederate soldiers, their mothers and wives and enslaved African-Americans — in a production that builds on the fine work of prior award-winning productions of this musical by Showbiz in 2002 and 2006. Director Bunny Arszman is to be commended for further shaping the show and making it relevant to audiences in 2017. There’s poignant storytelling about a horrific moment in American history — thousands upon thousands of deaths — but it’s full of deeply moving music, solo numbers and joyous chorus performances. I saw it at a Sunday matinee, and everyone present was deeply affected and appreciative of the show’s powerful production. Catch it if you can. It’s onstage through Saturday. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

The Cincinnati Playhouse has a crackerjack of a show in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, onstage through May 20. Ludwig, a clever and often amusing playwright, takes the classic Hound of the Baskervilles and makes it all the more entertaining by limiting the cast to five actors — one playing the master detective, another as his sometimes bumbling friend Dr. Watson and three more who fulfill more than three dozen roles, often changing costumes and characters right before the astonished audience’s eyes. It’s a delightful display of theatricality that’s also quite faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s greatest mystery. Even if you know the story, you’re likely to find some thrills and laughs in this production. Ludwig knows how to keep things moving and keep audiences both guessing and amused. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

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

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