Labor Day weekend means that Cincinnati’s theaters are putting the final touches on shows that will kick off their 2016-17 seasons. This weekend, you’ll find previews of the Playhouse’s production of a stage adaptation of John Irving’s memorable comic novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany. (The show’s official opening is next Thursday, but previews are set for Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.) With a strange voice and diminutive stature, Owen is an unlikely prophet. But he’s changed the life of his friend John Wheelwright, the story’s narrator. They meet as boys in 1950s New Hampshire and grow up during the escalation of the Vietnam War. Owen is convinced he’s divinely ordained, and his life inspires his friend’s faith. Playhouse Artistic Director Blake Robison, who’s staging the show, says, “He is what American wants to be, but so rarely achieves. I’d say that now, more than ever, we need Owen Meany.” Tickets: 513-421-3888.
The only other stage that’s active during the holiday weekend is the Incline Theater in East Price Hill, which is wrapping up its production of the classic Kander and Ebb musical Chicago on Sunday. This production features a pair of attention-grabbing leading ladies: Hannah Gregory as Roxie Hart and Alex Caldwell as Velma Kelly. Not many tickets remain, but you might check for a waiting list. Set in the 1930s, it’s compellingly relevant during an election year that’s all about media exposure. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
Openings will be hot and heavy next week, so decide which one (or more than one) you plan to catch. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati gets things started on Wednesday with The Legend of Georgia McBride, a funny and touching show about a guy whose Elvis impersonation gets tuned out and his only path is to become a drag queen. (Through Sept. 25; tickets: 513-421-3555). In addition to the Playhouse opening on Thursday, you can find a production of the classic musical Godspell at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. The show, a hit in 1971, uses infectious tunes to illustrate parables from the New Testament. (Through Oct. 2; tickets: 513-241-6550). If you care to drive to Dayton, the Human Race Theatre Company is kicking off its 30th-anniversary season with a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street on Thursday. It’s a macabre thriller, a show fully intended to scare the bejesus out of audiences. (Through Oct. 2; tickets: 937-228-3630). On Friday evening, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company sets off its 22nd season with the moving stage adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, about an extraordinary adolescent girl and her family of Jewish refugees in 1944, hiding from the Nazi Regime in a cramped Amsterdam attic. (Through Oct. 1; tickets: 513-381-2273).
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.