The Gift of Theater

With just a few days left for Christmas shopping, I'm making a few theater-related suggestions: a Broadway snowglobe, new musical theater recordings, 'Sondheim: The Birthday Concert' on DVD and gift certificates to our wonderful local theater companies.

With just a few days left for Christmas shopping, I’m making a few theater-related suggestions.

I have a Broadway snowglobe that I get out annually, and I love it. It’s kind of dated, but I’ve learned recently that Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS offers a new one every year.

The 2010 globe was designed by Tony Award winner David Gallo, whose work we often see at the Cincinnati Playhouse (in 2010 he designed The Fall of Heaven, The History of Invulnerability and High; I interviewed him in September). It features 20 Broadway show logos, taxis, the subway and a glimpse backstage, all rotating to the tune of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Visit to buy one for the Broadway lover(s) in your life.

Lots of great musical theater recordings came out this year. You can purchase a CD or give a gift certificate for downloading. Two revivals offered top-notch talent and great tunes: Jerry Herman’s La Cage aux Folle (the Tony Award-winning revival featured Kelsey Grammer and Tony winner Douglas Hodge) and Promises, Promises (with a score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, performed by Kristen Chenoweth and Sean Hayes). For the Rock lovers in your life, pick up a copy of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (28 minutes of adrenaline-soaked satire about American populism that’s actually rooted in some accurate history).

One more unusual cast recording is Sondheim on Sondheim, based on a Broadway tribute/overview of the legendary composer/lyricist. It features cabaret singer Barbara Cook and TV star Vanessa Williams in addition to a solid Broadway cast, but the highlights are fascinating audio clips in which Sondheim talks about his life and career.

Speaking of Sondheim, this year he turned 80, and he’s the busiest octogenarian I can think of. His March birthday was celebrated repeatedly in the U.S. and around the world. But the festivities began with two wonderful evenings (March 15-16) presented by the New York Philharmonic, hosted by David Hyde Pierce and featuring an incredible array of Broadway talent. Those concerts were edited into a 90-minute program for PBS and it’s a knockout. You can purchase the DVD of Sondheim: The Birthday Concert at

I also recommend the first volume of Sondheim’s two-part survey of his own lyrics, Finishing the Hat. It covers shows he wrote from 1954 to 1981, with tons of “attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes.” It’s a remarkable insight into the craft and the history of writing for the musical theater. You can find the collection — which The New York Times named as one of the 10 best books of 2010 — at most bookstores and online retailers. (The second volume, Look, I Made a Hat, is due out next fall, just in time for a 2011 holiday gift.)

My final recommendation is theater tickets. Sometimes we just don’t get around to making reservations, so why not give someone a flexible pass to Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (six tickets to be used in any configuration), Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (a package with eight tickets) or Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (the "build your own" package includes shows in both theaters)? They’ll thank you for the gesture.

In that same vein, how about a gift certificate to Know Theatre, where tickets are an affordable $12 in advance (thanks to generous underwriting by the Haile Foundation)? Know presents the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival in early June, so a pass for a selection of cutting-edge Fringe performances would be a satisfying warm-weather reminder of your holiday generosity.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]

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