Cincinnati Theatre We Loved in 2019

Here are 10 shows across local stages that 'CityBeat' critics gave high praises to in 2019

click to enlarge The touring Broadway company of "Hamilton" - Joan Marcus
Joan Marcus
The touring Broadway company of "Hamilton"

Cincinnati saw its fair share of impactful theatre this year. Here are a few excerpts from reviews CityBeat writers sealed with a critic’s pick in 2019. 

In the Heights at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park

Sun up on a hot, early July morning. Usnavi (Ryan Alvarado) opens his bodega, a stop-and-shop that deals mostly in café con leche, fueling the energy of the struggling but generally happy residents of Washington Heights, a Hispanic community at the northern tip of Manhattan. Yes, it’s the opening scene of In the Heights, the frenetic, energetic first work by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the guy behind the megahit Hamilton. In the Heights is a joyous tribute to Miranda’s roots, both the Manhattan borough where he grew up (and still lives) and the original homes of its residents: the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico. The show might be criticized for being overly sentimental and a tad cleansed of the serious issues of urban blight, but who cares? It’s his fond recreation of community, imbued with non-stop motion and caring that is expressed physically and verbally, in a constant stream of Rap, Hip Hop and Salsa rhythms. (Rick Pender)

Hamilton at the Aronoff Center

The touring production of Hamilton is no modest knock-off of the Broadway original. The talent is top-notch and the production values are on a par with the show’s New York staging. The performers’ passionate commitment to the material is obvious. Performances are supported by a 13-musician orchestra with six string players, as well as a drummer and a percussionist who maintain the score’s throbbing pulse and infectious rhythms. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give this one a 10 — the rare production that can “Blow Us All Away.” (RP)

Macbeth at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth is not for the faint of heart. And that is wonderful. With abundant use of stage blood, unnerving sound design and gruesome props, Cincy Shakes’ goes all in. Centered on the titular character, Macbeth explores prophecy, the supernatural and how far one will go to hold and maintain power. (Jackie Mulay)

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park

The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s new production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. And that’s a good thing. Co-conceived by Nick Cearley and Lauren Molina, who play Linus and Lucy, respectively, Charlie Brown is a musical fantasia that features beloved “Peanuts” characters in a series of vignettes about the joys and frustrations of childhood. From the first seamless lighting cue to the very last, shivers-down-your-spine blackout, Charlie Brown plunges into the timeless space of Charles Schulz’s comic strip “Peanuts.” Hosting the familiar favorites — Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, Snoopy and Patty — this production doesn’t shy away from the innocence of childhood. At the same time, it doesn’t ignore the astute nature with which children form their values, either. Because of this concept, Charlie Brown never feels like an insincere take on childhood but rather a celebration of it. (Jackie Mulay)

Miss Holmes at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Based on iconic characters by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and directed by Jemma Alix Levy, (Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s) production of Miss Holmes is a twist on a classic story that also challenges perceptions of the role of women in Victorian society. CSC regulars Kelly Mengelkoch and Sara Clark, as Miss Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Dorothy Watson, respectively, shine brightly as a fierce dynamic duo racing against time to solve the case of a newlywed who believes her influential and high-ranking investigator husband murdered his former wives and that she too will face the same fate. (Jennifer Moore) 

August: Osage County at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County has already successfully solidified itself into the theatrical canon as a modern classic, acting as a poignant window into the violence — both physical and emotional — that family members can commit against one another. The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s nearly three-and-a-half-hour production of Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play bares it all. August: Osage County follows the tenuous reunion of the Weston family as they rally around matriarch, Violet, in the wake of their father Beverly’s disappearance. This ensemble show, directed by producing artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips, never drags and certainly never falls prey to the propensity the subject matter has for pure despair. Instead, each cast member shines in their own neurotic, damaged way. (Jackie Mulay)

The Absentee at Know Theatre

The Absentee creates a universe that cleverly integrates the familiar technology of today with extraordinary imagination of how that tech could expand beyond our experiences on Earth. But instead of honing in on the new technology or expanded fantasy universe, (playwright Julia Doolittle) focuses on the deeply human aspects of relationships. She examines how technology augments the human experience rather than eclipsing it. This is the key to what makes the work so prescient and touching, even as it is set entirely in space. (Jackie Mulay)

Fun Home at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati

Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic tragicomic memoir, Fun Home was a surprise hit on Broadway in 2015, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. ETC’s D. Lynn Meyers writes in her director’s notes, “It’s possible to say I have been in rehearsal for Fun Home for four years.” She began considering Fun Home with Scot Woolley, her longtime friend and music director. They were eager to present the show’s powerful message of inclusion and understanding.  Woolley passed away unexpectedly last year, but the momentum and passion of their conversation is evident in this production. (RP)

Once on This Island at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park

Love, power and community reign supreme in the Tony Award-winning musical Once on This Island. Set in the present-day Caribbean French Antilles, the production spins the enchanting story of a young peasant girl, Ti Moune, on a quest for love as four competing gods use their forces to determine her fate. (Jennifer Moore)

Puffs at Know Theatre

Magic is real and growing up is just as awkward for teenage wizards as it is for muggles: that’s what we learn in the hilarious play Puffs, or seven increasingly eventful years at a certain school of magic and magic. Fans of a particular British boy wizard whose adventures first captivated international readers and moviegoers around the turn of the 21st century would do well to catch Know Theatre’s next performance of this delightfully farcical comedy. Puffs simultaneously celebrates and lampoons its source material with the “wink wink, nudge nudge” kind of amicable confrontation reserved for a childhood friend with whom you affectionately trade beratements. There are many, many jokes packed into this play, each executed with machine gun rapidity. (Sean M. Peters)

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