If you're a fan of musicals, you need to see THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS: THE MUSICAL! at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, opening Thursday. In about 90 minutes, four actors present parodies of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Kander & Ebb, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jerry Herman. The same simple plot is filtered through various musical styles — a young woman who can't pay the rent is menaced by a cruel landlord then rescued by a dashing young suitor. A hit in New York in 2004-2005, it was directed by Pamela Hunt. She's staging it for the Playhouse, too, where her cast includes co-creator and lyricist Joanne Bogart. Sondheim saw the show in New York, and Bogart recalls his reaction: "After the show, there he was backstage. We were just floored. He was so gracious and warm." Apparently he cackled all the way through the parody of his work. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Playwright CHARLES L. MEE is not a household name, but he is revered among those who treasure theater that pushes boundaries. His script Hotel Cassiopeia was presented at the 2006 Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, and it was recently featured at the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. One of his plays about American visual artists, Cassiopeia explored the life of collagist Joseph Cornell. For a local sample of Mee's work, check out the regional premiere of his 1989 script The Investigation of the Murder in El Salvador by the SATORI GROUP (Nov. 8-17). It's being produced in Covington at Carnegie Center in an art gallery surrounded by a glass art exhibition, the kind of setting where the corrupt elite might exchange banalities at a cocktail party, ignoring the murder and anarchy surrounding them. That's Mee's plot, and Satori will put you in the middle of it. Tickets: 859-491-2020.
In New Stage Collective's staging of the sprawling, complex CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, it's 1963 and Caroline Thibodeaux does laundry for a Jewish family in Louisiana. Her occasional companion is a sad boy who leaves loose change in his pants pockets. But Caroline has change of her own to cope with, from troubled kids to the social upheaval of the Civil Rights movement. Taylore Mahogany Scott, who once performed with Cincinnati Shakespeare, sings marvelously and creates a proud African American who seethes with emotion beneath a stoic exterior. She's not the only standout: Taliba Ashe as her daughter is powerful; Piper Davis as Dotty personifies sass and friendship. Several actors bring to life inanimate objects — a washing machine, a dryer and a radio. There's also a great 11-musician orchestra, playing a blend of Klezmer and Jewish Folk tunes with Motown and Rhythm & Blues. This production is multi-generational, multi-ethnic and multi-good. Through Nov. 18. (Rick Pender) Grade: A
Cincinnati Shakespeare's current production of CYMBELINE was a risky choice. Brian Isaac Phillips has turned Shakespeare's obscure and seldom-staged tragicomedy (this is the first production in the company's 14-season history) into a freewheeling fairytale refracted through the lens of a carnival funhouse mirror. Corinne Mohlenhoff plays Imogen, the daughter of King Cymbeline. She marries against his wishes, and all sorts of problems ensue. Her wicked stepmother the Queen, a deliciously evil Amy Warner, plots to be rid of her and advance her bumptious son Prince Cloten, played with gleeful stupidity by Giles Davies. The show, enhanced by an astonishing set, costumes, lighting and sound, is a mixture of tragedy, comedy and fantasy; Phillips' production respects Shakespeare's experiment in bastardizing and overlapping genres and the final result is a romp. (Mark Sterner) Grade: A
contact rick Pender: rpender(at)citybeat.com