Did you resolve to see more theater in 2015? If so, where to start? If you don’t know a lot about specific plays, consider the audiences that local theater companies serve. If you match up, then pick a show in the next few months and check out a performance.
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park serves a broad range of audiences. On its mainstage, the Marx, it presents shows that resonate with a lot of people, such as Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash (opens Jan. 17), featuring an actor who played the iconic country singer on Broadway. On its smaller Shelterhouse stage, the Playhouse tends to be more adventurous, aiming at somewhat more serious theatergoers: Chapatti (opening Feb. 7) is about two seniors in Ireland who bond over a shared affection for animals.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati calls itself “your premiere theatre” because it stages brand new plays with lesser-known titles, often recently staged in New York City. ETC offers the opportunity to see them locally staged for the first time. Coming soon: The Other Place (opening Jan. 27), a nominee for several Broadway awards in 2013. It’s the story of a brilliant scientist who hopes to reconnect with her estranged daughter, but her quest might be shaped by an inherited brain tumor.
Of course Cincinnati Shakespeare Company presents works by the Bard, including The Taming of the Shrew (opening April 3). But it stages other classic stories that appeal to lovers of literature. Samuel Beckett’s absurdist classic Waiting for Godot (opening Jan. 16) kicks off the year with “a vaudeville of cosmic proportions” that grapples with the mysteries of the universe. In February they’ll stage an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women.
On Cincinnati’s West Side, the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts most often presents familiar, crowd-pleasing plays and musicals. That’s certainly the case with Greater Tuna (opening Jan. 22), a comedy with two actors playing an array of quirky characters from Texas’ “third smallest town.” A little later, you’ll find The Marvelous Wonderettes (opening March 12), a comedy with Pop tunes from the early 1960s.
Like the Covedale, The Carnegie in Covington, Ky., generally produces familiar, audience-tested plays and musicals. The New Year predictably offers a “lightly-staged” musical, with an onstage orchestra, minimal scenery and costumes, big voices and dancing. The latter is a sure thing when West Side Story (opening Jan. 9) is presented.
If you know of Cincinnati’s annual Fringe Festival, you might have a sense of what Know Theatre presents — quirky, contemporary plays with low-budget but high-intensity performances. Up next on Know’s Over-the-Rhine stage is a one-woman adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale (opening Jan. 23), the story of society forcing women to become vessels for population growth.
You can find local “storefront theater” — adventurous works in tiny spaces — on Ludlow Avenue, just east of the Esquire movie theater. Clifton Players and Untethered Theatre share a space that was once a downstairs coffee shop. That’s where Untethered will stage Cincinnati’s first production of the sprawling 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner, August: Osage County (opening Feb. 19). It should be fascinating to see this drama about a dysfunctional family played in an intimate space seating 50.
Don’t overlook colleges and universities. They lack specific niches since they strive to give students varied performance experience, but you’ll often find smart productions featuring students who aspire to professional careers, usually presented in excellent facilities. (Pay attention to dates — these shows typically have short runs.)
At the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music you can see musical theater at the highest level; Many CCM grads head straight off to Broadway. The high-flying Peter Pan (opening March 5) takes off next. But don’t overlook equally high quality work by CCM Drama, presenting Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles (opening Feb. 12), the first time a play by this major playwright has been staged locally. CCM Drama gets creative with its annual Transmigration Festival (opening March 11), featuring works created and staged by students.
Northern Kentucky University takes its own shot at creativity with its biannual Y.E.S. Festival in April, offering three world premieres of plays by established playwrights who compete for the honor. NKU’s does a fine job with ambitious musical theater productions, too: Les Misérables is up next (opening Feb. 19).
Take your pick. But definitely go see some theater in 2015!
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]