Stage Door: Two operas for theater-lovers, plus an ocean cruise and a trip to the '60s

Fringe may be over, but this weekend is filled with opportunities to see great onstage performances, from the Cincinnati Opera and Incline Theater to NKU's Commonwealth Dinner Theater and the Richmond Shakespeare Festival.

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click to enlarge The debut performance of "Die Fledermaus" in November 2015 - Photo: Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
Photo: Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
The debut performance of "Die Fledermaus" in November 2015

The surfeit of entertainment offered by the Cincy Fringe has ended, leaving many theater-lovers high and dry. But there are plenty of onstage performances worth considering this weekend.

Although opera isn’t quite the same thing as musical theater, it’s definitely appealing to those who enjoy that category. Cincinnati Opera’s summer season kicks off this weekend with not one but two productions that regular theatergoers are likely to enjoy. (Read Anne Arenstein’s season preview for more information.) Last night I saw Johann Strauss Jr.’s Die Fledermaus (it’s presented again on Saturday evening), a bubbly, melodious farce that’s full of romance, practical jokes and mistaken identities — performed on an eye-popping set, inspired by the recent movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. Don’t let the show’s German title put you off: It’s part of the joke (it means “The Bat”), and it’s as close as you’ll get to needing to understand a foreign language since there are supertitles and the production is sung in a wonderful English translation. Since Music Hall is closed for renovation, operas are being presented this summer (and next) at the Aronoff, and it’s downright miraculous how good unamplified voices sound — something we never hear with touring Broadway musicals. The weekend’s second opera is a world premiere (first performance tonight): Fellow Travelers by Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce. Set in the early 1950s, it’s the heartrending story of a gay love affair between two State Department officials. The story of forbidden love during an era of political machination has been highly anticipated after a positively reviewed workshop performance in New York City earlier this year. It’s your chance to see a new work, written and presented in English, that’s likely to have a much-performed future. This weekend offers a second performance on Sunday at 3 p.m. (in the Aronoff’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater); further performances are set for June 19, 21, 23, 25, 28, 30 and July 6, 8 and 10. Tickets: 513-241-2742.

The Incline Theater in East Price Hill has kicked off its second summer season with a production of Cole Porter’s frothy Anything Goes, a musical from 1934 that is still immensely entertaining. Set on an ocean cruise ship with a crew of American showgirls (including an evangelist who’s become a nightclub singer) it also features an incompetent gangster, a stowaway with a crush on an heiress, her domineering mother and her stuffy English fiancé. The Incline sold out all its shows last summer, so call ahead for tickets. Through June 26. Box Office: 513-241-6550 

Another summertime offering that typically has a busy box office is the Commonwealth Dinner Theater at Northern Kentucky University. It’s in the midst of a run of Neil Simon’s The Star-Spangled Girl (through June 26). Set in the Swinging Sixties, it’s about two San Francisco radicals whose political magazine is barely supporting them. Then their status quo is turned upside down by Sophie, an all-American girl who puts them in a romantic tailspin. It’s perfect for after-dinner entertainment. (Dinner is served at 6:30 p.m.; the show happens at 8.) Tickets: 859-572-5464.

If you’re willing to head out of town, there are a couple of interesting choices. Dayton’s Human Race Theatre Company is presenting Terrence McNally’s Master Class (through June 26), a fictionalized rendition of singer Maria Callas encouraging and berating young singers. Tickets: 937-228-3630. In downtown Richmond, Indiana, at the newly renovated Starr-Gennett Pavilion in the Whitewater Gorge Park, Richmond Shakespeare Festival is presenting two classic scripts in rotating repertory, King Lear and The Comedy of Errors (wrapping up on June 25 and 26 respectively). Richmond is about an hour’s drive from Cincinnati. Tickets: 800-838-3006.

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

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