Producing musicals in July and August is a longtime theater tradition called “summer stock” – using a core company of actors to present a brief season of shows on a rotating basis. The Carnegie in Covington is taking this approach this year with a set of shows to entertain audiences in its Otto M. Budig Theater. It kicked off the season in mid-June with an energetic staging of Stephen Sondheim’s fairytale musical, Into the Woods. Added into the mix as of July 16 is Jonathan Larson’s rock musical, Rent. A third show, George Remus: A New Musical, about the legendary bootlegger, will be added in August. Concluding performances of the shows happen August 26-28.
Into the Woods has been staged with nonstop energy by Katie Johannigman, a 2012 graduate of the musical theater program at University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), where she now teaches. Several members of her cast are standout CCM undergraduates. Tyler J. Martin plays the earnest, optimistic Baker, and Sarah Jane Nelson is his levelheaded, pragmatic wife. Their characters are desperate to have a child, and their last resort is assuaging the mercurial witch next door who put a curse on the Baker’s family. Sarah Pansing plays this nasty, mischievous character who often speaks and sings in rapid rhymes. Emma Rose Johnson, a musical theater student at Otterbein University in Columbus, is flighty Cinderella who grows up over the course of the show. August Bagg, a CCM senior, is spirited but dopey Jack.
These Carnegie summer productions are inventive but not extravagantly produced, conveying the energy and creativity of let’s-put-on-a-show summer theater. Into the Woods and Rent share several cast members and the same set, an adaptable arrangement of platforms and ladders. Both are done with minimal casts. Into the Woods has 23 characters, but the Carnegie’s limited budget dictated using 10 actors, so there’s a lot of doubling with performers playing multiple roles and genders. Part of the fun of the production is seeing Jackson Reagin leave the stage as nasty stepsister Lucinda and then return moments later as the Big Bad Wolf or a preening Prince who woos Cinderella and others.
Madison Mosley and Jamal Stone are also CCM students. Mosley brings to life a sassy Little Red Riding Hood and then donning a long blonde wig to play the mournful Rapunzel, trapped in a tower. Versatile Stone rotates between playing the second flouncy stepsister Florinda, Rapunzel’s zealous Prince, and Jack’s woebegone cow, Milky White, a puppet comprised of a large traditional milk can and a pail. Experienced local actress Helen Anneliesa Raymond-Goers plays all “The Mothers” to Cinderella, Beanstalk Jack, and Red Riding Hood, as well as the booming voice of the Giant’s Wife who is heard and felt but never seen. Roger Dumas Jr. is the persistent Narrator who patiently escorts the audience through the tangled web of fairy tales.
A half-dozen of the CCM actors from Into the Woods will also appear in Jonathan Larson’s Rent, a contemporary rock musical about starving artists inspired by Puccini’s opera, La Bohème. August Bagg plays aspiring documentary filmmaker Mark. Jackson Reagin and Sarah Jane Nelson are the lovers, struggling musician Rodger and the tragic drug-addicted performance artist Maureen. Jamal Stone is the outlandish drag queen Angel, while Tyler J. Martin and Madison Mosley are in the show’s ensemble. Rent will be staged by Eric Byrd, an adjunct professor at CCM who recently led a supercharged version of Newsies at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Warsaw Federal Incline Theater. Based on that production, Rent promises to be a smartly staged, cleverly choreographed production.
The third production of the Carnegie’s summer season is George Remus: A New Musical, the story of the rise and fall of a penniless German immigrant who came to Cincinnati, worked as a pharmacist and a lawyer and eventually became the most famous bootlegger of them all. He had politicians in his pocket, mobsters at his feet and a perfect scheme to sell barrels of whiskey during Prohibition. By 1922, Remus' lavish mansion atop Price Hill was the scene of countless over-the-top parties. But it didn’t last.
Carnegie Theater director Maggie Perrino is staging Remus, which she has worked on for three years with playwright Joseph McDonough and composers and lyricists Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. CCM performers Bagg, Martin, Mosley and Stone join a cast of local actors, led by theatre veteran and Walnut Hills High School drama teacher Mike Sherman as the legendary bootlegger.
This ambitious summer series at the Carnegie is a chance to see the kind of young musical theater talent that’s training at local universities, as well as a brand new musical recreating a colorful piece of local history.
Into the Woods and Rent are currently onstage at the Carnegie in Covington. Check thecarnegie.com for performance dates through the final weekend of August.