There’s a song in The Fantasticks that bemoans the heat of the summer sun — “This Plum Is Too Ripe” — and that’s how hot weather makes me feel. It’s made more depressing by the reduction of shows that might provide some diversion. Most local stages are dark for the summer, which is a shame.
Growing up in another part of Ohio, I loved summer stock, shows that were pure entertainment. Cincinnati had some of that, too, until tight budgets forced UC to cancel the “Hot Summer Nights” series at the College-Conservatory of Music and the Cincinnati Playhouse decided summer shows didn’t do well enough to justify the expense. But there’s still summer theater to be found, so let’s do a quick overview.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is not exactly a straw-hat venue, but its current production (through June 27) of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) has the right spirit — a silly romp that touches on all of the Bard’s plays in a way that’s more entertaining than edifying. With three of CSC’s best actors onstage, it’s a great way to get some laughs on a summer evening.
If you prefer your summer theater in a more traditional vein, your best bet is the Showboat Majestic. This riverboat, which once cruised the Ohio River making stops at towns along the way to present shows, is now permanently moored at Cincinnati’s Public Landing. It’s operated by Cincinnati Landmark Productions with the same spirit that’s prevailed since the 1920s when it first set sail. They just finished a run of Smokey Joe’s Café, a revue of Rock & Roll tunes by Leiber and Stoller, and on deck (well, actually in the small theater) is Cotton Patch Gospel (July 7-25), a retelling of the New Testament books of Matthew and John. It’s set in rural Georgia to a Country Music score by Pop composer Harry Chapin (best known for tunes like “Taxi” and “Cat’s in the Cradle”). The cast is led by Joshua Steele as Jesus and CCM junior Max Chernin as Matthew.
If you gravitate to this kind of fare, the Showboat offers Larry Shue’s hilarious comedy The Nerd in August and the recent Broadway hit Thoroughly Modern Millie in September. And Cincinnati Landmark uses its other facility, the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, for Cincinnati Young People’s Theatre, which will present the “School Edition” of Les Misérables next month (July 23-Aug. 1) with lots of local teenagers storming the barricades.
Dinner theater is another popular category of summer theater, and you’ll find entertainment preceded by meals this summer on the campus of Northern Kentucky University by the Commonwealth Theatre Company. If you enjoyed Ensemble Theatre’s popular production of The Marvelous Wonderettes, you’re ready for The Taffetas, another homage to girl groups from the 1950s. It runs through Sunday.
Up next is a new show, Church Girls (July 7-25), a very tongue-in-cheek musical created by NKU professors Ken Jones and Jamey Strawn. It’s a bit like Greater Tuna, using six men to play the rather dysfunctional ladies of the Umatilla Second Christian Church Women’s Auxiliary League. It promises to be a hoot with a cast featuring Charlie Clark, Roderick Justice and Ken Early.
Once the evening sun goes down, a night in the theater can be a great summer escape.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]