Best Of 2019

Best Capturing of King Records Onstage: "Cincinnati King"

Six years ago, Cincinnati Playhouse artistic director Blake Robison asked playwright and director KJ Sanchez to consider creating a show that would tell a “quintessentially Cincinnati story.” With Cincinnati King — about the city’s mid-century recording company, King Records — he got exactly what he asked for. Sanchez took the time to interview musicians and others who were part of Syd Nathan’s enterprise in Evanston. Last year marked the 75th anniversary of King’s founding, and it’s likely that the building where this all happened will become a shrine to local music creativity from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. If you want to know more about why this is an important piece of Cincinnati history, this was the show for you. Sanchez and others interviewed dozens of people for the script, but she hit the mother lode with Philip Paul, a session drummer for hundreds of King recording sessions. A colorful storyteller with first-hand information who started working at King in the early 1950s, Paul knew Nathan, the bombastic, opinionated owner, as well as Little Willie John, a talented performer who never quite crossed over the bridge to the stardom he deserved. Paul, Nathan and Little Willie were translated into onstage characters for Cincinnati King. (On opening night, the real Philip Paul, now in his 90s, was there to watch.) The show is not a comprehensive history, but rather a collection of anecdotes presented chronologically to create a vivid picture of the stew of talent, diversity, ingenuity and mendacity that transpired at the studio on Brewster Avenue. It tells the story of how King really was back in the day — with musical numbers and a live band to boot. Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, 962 Mount Adams Circle, Mount Adams, cincyplay.com.