Each week in Stage Door I offer theater tips for the weekend, sometimes with a few pieces of theater news.
The Whipping Man opened on Wednesday at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. The show made a big splash at Manhattan Theatre Club in New York last spring with Andre Braugher in the central role of Simon, a dedicated former slave who remains in a ruined mansion in 1865 Richmond in the days just after the Civil War. Caleb, the wounded son of his former master stumbles in (desperately needing some horrendous surgery) and then John, another former slave, a young man raised side by side with Caleb. The slave-owning family was Jewish, and it’s almost time for Passover, which they decide to celebrate. It’s a powerful show about freedom and responsibility with some jaw-dropping plot twists. Director D. Lynn Meyers gets the most from her cast. This one is a must-see. Onstage through Feb. 12.—-
The King and I is onstage at Covington’s Carnegie Center in a concert staging. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical is about a clash of wills between the King of Siam (we call it Myanmar today) played by Broadway veteran Ronn K. Smith and a starch English woman he’s hired to educate his 70+ kids. Lee Merrill is excellent in this role. The show’s other big part is the King’s No. 1 wife, and Teresa De Zarn, who’s also done a lot of Broadway work, delivers a heartfelt rendition of her character’s big number, “Something Wonderful.” All three leads have picked up recognition from the League of Cincinnati Theatre’s awards program. The performers are accompanied by members of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, conducted by music director, Mischa Santora. Final performance is Sunday.
Dead Accounts at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a world-premiere script by Theresa Rebeck born here, grew up in Kenwood, graduated from Ursuline Academy. Today she’s a successful playwright (her script Seminar is currently running on Broadway) and a TV writer/producer (she’s a big part of the TV series Smash, debuting on NBC on Feb. 6 — about the drama around creating a Broadway musical). Rebeck told me that her show at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a “love letter” to her hometown. It’s the story of a local guy who’s made it big in banking in New York through some questionable means — and now he’s run back to Cincinnati to binge on Graeter’s and Skyline. Funny story, but with a point about things that matter in today’s world.
Billy Elliott The Musical wraps up its two-week run on Sunday. This is probably the best touring show we’ll have at the Aronoff Center for the 2011-2012 season. It has some great dancing by a set of amazing boys in the title role, a boy from a blue-collar town in northern England who shows an aptitude for ballet. His dad and his brother don’t get it, and their coal-miner friends think the kid must be a “poof,” but he sticks to it and rallies a downtrodden community suffering through a debilitating strike. With music and lyrics by Elton John it’s a high-energy evening that closely resembles the 2009 Tony Award winner’s Broadway production. Find my full review here.
Shakespeare’s Will recreates Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife, on the day after the playwright’s death. She offers a different perspective on his life and hers — and might shed some light into why he willed to her his “second-best bed.” Veteran local actress Sherman Fracher is offering this work at Cincinnati Shakespeare in the spaces between Henry VIII performances. It’s onstage through Feb. 5.