Playhouse Announces World Premieres for 2009-10 Season

At the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s announcement event for its 2009-10 season last night, Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern offered some intriguing insights and facts about his upcoming season (see my report on the new season's 11 shows here).—-

The show opening the Playhouse’s 50th season next September will be Anthony Shaffer’s mind-bending murder mystery Sleuth from 1970. Ed Stern saw the second-ever public performance of the show while it was still in previews in London. “I knew it would be a hit,” he told Playhouse supporters. (It was presented on Broadway from 1970 until 1973, totalling of 1,222 performances. It’s twice been made into a film, in 1972 and 2007, and Michael Caine was in both versions.)

Stern has again obtained the services of British director John Doyle to stage a show. (Doyle’s previous Playhouse production, a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, moved to Broadway and won a Tony Award.) In October, Doyle’s production of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters — in a new translation by young playwright, Sarah Ruhl (The Clean House, Eurydice) — will mark the first time he’s staged a non-musical work in the United States.

Doyle has made a name for himself with musicals in the last few years, but Stern says his real strength is as a storyteller, adding that Doyle’s staging of Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus in London a few years ago was the finest version of the Mozart play he’s ever witnessed. Just to add to the cachet of this production, Ruhl’s new play, In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) — and yes, the title does mean that kind of vibrator — is scheduled to open on Broadway on Nov. 19. It'll be in previews when The Three Sisters opens here in Cincinnati on Oct. 29. Producers in New York City are sure to be paying attention.

Why does the Playhouse present A Christmas Carol every December? Stern explained that in 2008 it was attended by 21,139 people — 96.5 percent of the Marx Theatre’s capacity. All that ticket revenue helps support other Playhouse productions. That’s why it's back for its 19th year this December.

NPR commentator Kevin Kling will bring his unique perspective on life — he was born with multiple sclerosis and was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident a few years ago — in a one-man show, How? How? Why? Why? Why? that will be presented in the Shelterhouse Theatre in February. What’s that strange title all about? Kling’s disability means he can't use his hands to write, so he has a voice recognition system that transcribes his spoken words. But he also has a dog and a cat. When the dog barks, the transcriber records it as “how”; when the cat meows, the resulting word is “why."

Just to add to the fun, Kling is accompanied onstage by a woman playing the accordion. The show had its first run at the Seattle Repertory Theatre exactly a year ago.

The Shelterhouse season wraps up in May-June 2010 with a show that’s been produced at the Playhouse more than any other: The Fantasticks by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. It was so beloved by early Playhouse audiences that it was presented six times, in 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1969 and 1974 in the Shelterhouse Theatre. The show just happens to be 50 years old in 2010, having premiered the same year the Playhouse opened, in 1960. (It eventually played for 42 years — 17,162 performances — the longest run of any show in theater history.)

The Fantasticks has a Cincinnati connection: It was staged in 1960 by director Word Baker, who subsequently became the Playhouse’s artistic director and who provided lots of advice to the young Ed Stern when he was co-founding Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis in 1971. And here’s one more contemporary connection: When Stern announced the show last night, he used actor Dennis Parlato (currently playing one of the creepy stamp collectors in Mauritius at Ensemble Theatre) to sing the show’s best-known tune, “Try to Remember.” Parlato was in an off-Broadway revival of The Fantasticks last fall.

On a serious and grateful note: The Playhouse is able to put together its remarkable 50th anniversary season thanks to a set of "angels," a group of special donors who have stepped up to cover the additional expenses in a year when such funding is hard to find. It's another vote of confidence in Stern (who's now led the Playhouse for more than a third of its history) and his ability to present memorable work.

Those "angel" donors include Tony Alper and Audrey Albin, Moe and Jack Rouse, The Lois and Richard Rosenthal Foundation, Randolph and Sallie Wadsworth, Charlotte and Robert Otto, The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation, Linda Busken Jergens and Andrew MacAoidh Jergens, James A. Miller, The Sathe Family Foundation, Victoria Buyniski Gluckman and Dr. Jack Gluckman and the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation. The entire Robert S. Marx Theatre season is sponsored by The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation, while the Thompson Shelterhouse season is sponsored by Heidelberg Distributing Co.